Firebombs finally drive activist out

THE BALTIMORE SUN

They threw bricks and urinated on her steps. Her tires were slashed, her car keyed with a curse word.

But, according to court records, it wasn't until Edna McAbier heard the crash of a makeshift bomb on her roof and saw liquid burning on the pavement outside her home early Saturday that the 59-year-old community leader finally fled her beloved North Baltimore neighborhood and the tormentors she called drug dealers.

"She never mentioned the harassment," said David Wright, president of the Charles Village Community Benefits District, which includes McAbier's Harwood neighborhood. "I really think that she was so focused that she never really made an issue of it. ... She grinned and beared it."

To some of McAbier's neighbors interviewed yesterday, she remains inspiring, the community association president selflessly dedicated to the improvement of her beleaguered neighborhood. To others, she has become a reckless crime-buster who clashed one too many times with drug dealers.

Police said yesterday that Andre Wilkins, 31, of Randallstown, and Jackie Brewington, 18, Antonino Newsome, 18, Richard M. Royal, 20, and Isaac Smith, 25, all of Baltimore, have been arrested and charged with 13 counts each, including attempted murder, arson and related felonies in the attack.

All five were being held without bail last night, police said. At least two live on McAbier's street, East Lorraine Avenue, court records show.

Though police and The Sun initially kept McAbier's identity secret out of concern for her safety, she was named publicly in court documents released yesterday. McAbier, who was uninjured, has moved out of her neighborhood since the attack, police said.

As the case proceeded in state court with bail review hearings, police investigators met yesterday with prosecutors at the U.S. attorney's office to discuss whether federal charges would be filed.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were working all weekend on the investigation, assisting city detectives, said Baltimore ATF spokeswoman Kelly Long. No decision had been made as to whether the case would be prosecuted in federal court, Long said yesterday.

McAbier, who works for the state, has been a visible presence in Harwood for more than 20 years, neighbors say.

For a recent anti-crime National Night Out, she bought ice cream and toppings to serve at the park on 27th Street. She spent her own money for supplies to repaint the playground.

"She's amazing," said Wright, 28, a Johns Hopkins University librarian whose district association works to improve the 100-block area of Charles Village that includes Harwood. "She's one of these people who is just so full of energy. ... She very much leads by example."

Liz Schuh, 24, a VISTA volunteer in Harwood last year but now living in Chicago, said McAbier helped establish neighborhood festivals, plant trees and organize a town hall-style meeting of residents.

"When I first began working with Edna, people would walk by and say that what we were doing was nice, but it wouldn't last," Schuh said yesterday.

Thanks to McAbier's perseverance, Schuh said, neighbors joined in.

"She said to me often that what she wanted to do was retire so she could work full time to improve the neighborhood," Schuh said.

But at least one neighbor said McAbier's style could do more harm than good. So passionate was McAbier about those who sold drugs on her streets that she would get out of a car to hector them, said a neighbor who asked not to be identified.

"I treat them like human beings, but she treats them like dogs," the neighbor said.

To residents, she said, the dealers are known as the "International Group" or the "Internationals," a reference to the drugs they import. "You can't keep jumping out at the Internationals and tell them you can't do this, you can't do that," she said. "Someday, they'll say to you, 'Well, watch me. I'll show you.'"

For McAbier, the conflict reached a new level Saturday. She phoned police at 1:40 a.m. and said she had heard an loud noise on her roof and that liquid was burning on the pavement out front.

When police arrived, they found shards of brown glass near a burned patch on the ground. On the second floor, they spotted soot just below a front bay window.

Police and fire investigators found evidence of five Molotov cocktails - brown Coors beer bottles filled with flammable fluid and with a cloth wick.

Some never ignited, others never broke. Fire investigators estimated the damage at $100.

McAbier told investigators about previous attacks and about those in the neighborhood who had warned her to stop calling police.

On Saturday, neighbors told police they heard glass breaking but did not see who threw the bottles, court documents say.

Eventually, investigators found Brewington, who told them he threw one of the Molotov cocktails, according to court documents, and implicated Smith as another bomb-thrower and Wilkins as the driver.

Court papers described some of those arrested as members of the "Bloods" gang.

Newsome, who was arrested and charged yesterday, is expected to be arraigned today, police and court officials said.

McAbier could not be reached for comment last night. But those who lauded her tactics and those who criticized them agreed that they hope the attack doesn't force McAbier from her home permanently.

Although some residents planned to gather last night to discuss the possibility of a rally to support McAbier, the neighbor interviewed yesterday said she feared the drug dealers too much to do anything that might offend them. "I'm sorry, I feel for Edna," she said. "But as far as getting out there, I don't think I can do it. I don't think it'll be a benefit for me."

But Wright said the firebombing could galvanize neighborhood residents.

"I think it's going to be a rallying cry," he said. "It personalizes crime. Any threat to a person's home in this violently symbolic way, it's going to really pull people out for more action."

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