Police continued to search yesterday for two teenage brothers who were snatched from their Catonsville house after a home invasion that sources familiar with the investigation said was related to Baltimore's drug trade.
Six masked gunmen forced their way into the house shortly before 3 a.m. on Tuesday, bound and gagged the home's 10 occupants and lingered for eight hours before taking off with the boys. One intruder fired a parting shot at a relative of the boys while fleeing in a BMW convertible.
The abducted teens -- Stephon Blackwell, 16, and Sterling Blackwell, 15 -- are the younger brothers of Steven Blackwell Jr., an East Baltimore man who has been convicted of drug possession, manufacturing and distribution offenses and has been charged with attempted murder, court records show.
The intruders also sexually assaulted one of the female occupants of the house, according to a source familiar with the case who is not authorized to talk about the investigation.
Authorities issued an Amber Alert Tuesday afternoon for the brothers and investigators with Baltimore City police as well as state and federal law enforcement agencies have joined the effort, said Cpl. Michael Hill, a Baltimore County police spokesman.
Hill declined yesterday to speak about what police believe prompted the attack.
Several neighbors on the street said they believe that the kidnapping stemmed from the activities they suspected were going on in the yellow house.
"We believe this whole transaction was drug-related," said one man who, like his neighbors, asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "We're all a little nervous because we don't want [Molotov] cocktails thrown on our porches."
The narrow lane of asphalt in the 600 block of Plymouth Road stretches up a hill, just off Edmondson Avenue and a few blocks from the city line. Lined mostly by well-kept, single-family houses with broad front porches, the street has attracted families, older residents and young couples looking for their first home in an attractive, affordable neighborhood, said those who live there.
Residents on the street say the neighborhood was quiet, friendly and peaceful -- until the tenants of the house where the abduction occurred moved in a year or so ago.
The glass window of the front door remained clouded yesterday and smeared with police fingerprint powder. A light fixture to the left of the door was askew. And the blinds shielding several windows of the now-empty house were broken and knocked awry.
Neighbors said they have grown wary of the renters' loud arguments, their flashy cars and the late-night visits by motorists who honk outside the house and stay only a few minutes before speeding off again.
News that the two teenagers were abducted by masked gunmen has heightened residents' concerns.
"It's been nerve-racking, to say the least," one woman said. "It's not the neighborhood we moved into."
Neighbors said they frequently saw expensive cars -- Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Jaguars -- with dark-tinted windows parked outside the rental home. Oftentimes, the vehicles sported temporary license plates, they said.
"When the temporary tags would run out, a different car with temporary tags would show up," one neighbor said. "You'd have to be blind not to notice it. ... It was something. Something fishy was going on."
Another neighbor said that police towed a new Range Rover and a Lincoln from the street in front of the home Tuesday as they worked the crime scene.
Neighbors said that the house attracted many visitors -- and often in the middle of the night, between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Motorists would pull up in front of the house and honk. Someone would run out of the house, meet the driver in the street and exchange words and a handshake before the car sped off, they said.
"I told my daughter to stay away from that house: Don't stop near it. Don't look at it. Stay clear of it," said one woman whose neighbors warned her about the occupants of the house shortly after she moved in. "I don't know what their deal is, but any house that has that much activity at night you should stay away from."
Baltimore County police went to the scene of the abduction about 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Eight hours earlier, police said, six armed men wearing masks got out of a gray Chevrolet Suburban and forced their way into the two-story house. Rented by the mother of the two teens who were abducted, the house was occupied by two women and eight men, most of whom did not live there, police said.
Once inside, the men bound the occupants' hands behind their backs with tape and gagged them. The intruders stayed in the house until about 11 a.m., when they left with the brothers in a black 2004 BMW 645 convertible that belonged to one of the people in the house.
As the BMW was about to leave, a male relative of the boys was driving by the house and saw the abduction. When the man approached the convertible, one of the intruders fired a shot that missed the relative, police said.
Hill, a county police spokesman, said that the people left in the house initially refused to cooperate with police, although a few of them later provided some information.
He declined to elaborate.
Sterling Clifford, a city police spokesman, would not say whether the home invasion was connected to the city's drug trade.
"We are watching to see if there is any city connection," he said. "Anytime something like this happens in a neighboring jurisdiction, we pay attention to it. Everyone's concern is finding these kids alive and finding out who is responsible for it."
The BMW convertible was found abandoned in the city Tuesday night, police said.
One longtime resident said the street was plagued by a different kind of trouble when she first moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago. Patrons of a bar on Edmondson Avenue tended to park at the very end of Plymouth Road.
"They'd zip up the street real fast on their way out at the end of the night," she said. "To have those problems back -- when all you had to worry about was some speeders."
Her voice trailed off.