Columbia shootings prompt meeting with police

The Baltimore Sun

In the wake of two shootings over the weekend in one of Columbia's oldest communities - including one that left a 23-year-old man dead - Howard County police plan to meet with residents tonight to discuss the crimes.

Though investigators say they do not believe the incidents in Oakland Mills village are related, residents say the shootings have raised questions about safety in their neighborhood.

"From the community's standpoint, we're looking at ... how can the community respond to this, and how can we do things to make the residents of the community safe?" said Sandy Cederbaum, village manager for the Oakland Mills Community Association, which is co-sponsoring the event with police.

Just before 3 a.m. Saturday, Jason Batts of the 6200 block of Painted Yellow Gate in Columbia was found fatally shot in the parking lot of Stevens Forest Apartments in the 5800 block of Stevens Forest Road. Batts was Howard County's second homicide victim this year.

About 1 a.m. Sunday, Wayne Ronald Hamlin, 24, of the 5900 block of Harpers Farm Road was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and facial cuts, police said. Investigators say the shooting stemmed from a dispute between two groups in the 5800 block of Thunder Hill Road.

No one has been charged in either shooting, police said.

Cederbaum said residents want to take steps to prevent violence, which she said is not common in the area. Of the five homicides in the county last year, none were in Oakland Mills.

"Prior to this weekend, there hasn't been talk or concern like that," she said of concerns about violence. "There is a concern now that there has been crime in our village."

A resident of Stevens Forest Apartments said that in light of the shootings, she took the day off from work yesterday to look for a new place to live.

"It could have been a stray bullet," said the woman, who has lived in the apartment complex for seven years and would not give her name out of fear for her safety. Security guards who patrol the neighborhood during the summer are needed year-round, the 29-year-old woman said.

"It has been an overall good area, but what's Columbia turned into?" she said.

The woman also said that she worked with Batts and his twin brother for two years when they were in high school.

"Overall, he was a very good person," she said of the victim.

County Councilman Calvin Ball, who represents the district that includes Oakland Mills, called the shootings "quite unfortunate" and expressed his concern about violence in the county.

"I think when we see challenging incidents like these take place, it reminds us that we need to continue to commit to community vibrancy and public safety and revitalizing our older communities," Ball said.

Oakland Mills has been selected for revitalization efforts by county officials, including a $10 million "green" office building to be constructed on a vacant lot next to the village center, and a $12 million renovation of Stevens Forest Apartments. Some village officials have opposed the plan for the subsidized housing complex, saying it should include mixed-income housing.

"The beauty of Oakland Mills is its strong activism and its responsiveness, and I think a commitment to really look out for our neighbors," Ball said. "If you go to any neighborhood that has [10,000] or 15,000 people, you're going to see some challenges, especially when it's 40 years old."

Tonight's meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the loft of the Other Barn, the community center for Oakland Mills, at 5851 Robert Oliver Place.

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