Howard County police were searching for a man who fatally shot a convenience store clerk at a 24-hour 7-Eleven in Running Brook in Columbia early yesterday.
Police with K-9 dogs searched the area and adjacent walking paths for the assailant, who a witness said fled on foot from the store in the 5700 block of Columbia Road, soon after the 3:10 a.m. shooting, police said.
Police did not reveal the name of the clerk, a 40-year-old woman, because they have been unable to notify her relatives.
"She does not have any family in the area," said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn, adding that it would be a "challenge" for police to make the notification.
Police declined to speculate about a motive in the killing, saying only that they were investigating the possibility that the shooting occurred during a botched robbery.
The woman had been an employee at the 7-Eleven for seven or eight years, said Margaret Chabris, a spokeswoman for 7-Eleven corporate headquarters in Dallas.
Llewellyn said that a man outside the store called 911 after hearing a gunshot and seeing a masked man run out of the store.
The clerk was taken by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore in critical condition and later died.
Police would not say whether any cash or goods were taken.
Investigators also declined to say whether the store's surveillance cameras caught the incident.
Surveillance footage from the same 7-Eleven was used last year in the trial of Melissa Burch Harton, who was convicted of manslaughter after strangling her friend and fellow Loyola College graduate student, Natasha Bacchus Magee.
The two had stopped at the store on the night of Magee's death, the footage showed.
Yesterday afternoon, the windows of the store were covered in brown paper and blocked off with yellow crime tape. Chabris said the store would reopen on Saturday.
The store has been the scene of three recent robberies -- one in 2005, one last year and one this year.
In the most recent incident, a man entered the store about 9 p.m. Feb. 13, showed a handgun and fled with cigarettes and cash. The robber is still at large.
Several area residents said that, despite the robberies, the store in Wilde Lake village is needed.
"It's the only store we have over here," said Renee Smith, 38, as she walked to her apartment with her 20-year-old son, Lenny Smith. They were carrying bags filled with canned goods they had bought at a supermarket about a mile away.
Smith said that her family relies on the 7-Eleven frequently.
"I came here from New York thinking my kids would be safe," she said. However, her son interrupted her, saying that "a convenience store robbery could happen anywhere."
Chabris said the store is a franchise operated by Kathy Wragg. Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.
Chabris said that franchisees are advised to post signs that say less than $30 is kept in store's cash register after dark. It was not known if the Running Brook store had such a sign.
A reward of up to $30,000 for information leading to an indictment is being offered in this case.