Shirley Worcester had just taken down her Christmas decorations and was carrying two bags of trash when she stopped Wednesday night on the porch of her modest waterfront house in Middle River to talk with relatives who had pulled into the driveway.
As the 58-year-old grandmother chatted with her sister-in-law and brother-in-law, a boy dressed in black ran past them along narrow Whitethorn Way, her sister-in-law said yesterday. The boy fell, just as two gunshots rang out, she said.
The boy got up and continued running. Worcester dropped the trash bags and "had this really shocked look," her sister-in-law said. "She said, 'I've been hit.' Then she said she thought she would pass out. My husband and I laid her down in the driveway."
Worcester, who loved dancing, boating, motorcycling and most of all, driving her 14-year-old red Corvette, was taken by ambulance to Franklin Square Hospital Center, where she was pronounced dead.
One of the shots had hit Worcester in the chest. The other had struck a towering tree in the yard of the house where Worcester had lived for 19 years.
Police said the investigation into the shooting is continuing, but that Worcester was likely the innocent victim of shots aimed at someone else.
"We are talking to a number of people at the moment," said Bill Toohey, Baltimore County police spokesman, who declined to give further details. "The investigation at this moment is at a very sensitive stage."
The sister-in-law, who asked that her named be withheld because of fears for her safety, said she yelled "What was that?" as the boy ran down the street after the shots had been fired. "He answered, 'I don't know,' and kept running," she said.
Worcester, the 11th of 12 children, and many of her siblings had lived all their lives in the shore cottages that line Middle River, just off Eastern Boulevard. Their grandparents had moved there in the 1940s and in the ensuing years, subsequent generations added their own waterfront homes to the street.
"We grew up here, and we always felt safe here," said Nell Irwin, Worcester's twin sister, who moved to Havre de Grace a few years ago. "We have all stayed close."
Both twins loved to dance, although Irwin preferred rock 'n' roll to her sister's penchant for country.
"She did teach me all the country steps," Irwin said.
Tex Worcester, Shirley's husband of 26 years, said, "This is a good neighborhood to live in. We never locked our cars, and there was never any traffic down this alley. But a few months ago, things got worse. Bikes were stolen and crime increased. Now a stray bullet has taken my Shirley."
Many family members, most of them also neighbors, gathered yesterday at the Worcesters' well-maintained bungalow. The family spoke lovingly of a woman who worked as a clerk for an oil company and spent her leisure time on the family power boat or her husband's Harley.
"It has been her and me 100 percent all this time," Tex Worcester said. "I didn't do anything without her. It was my job to protect her."
Charmie Martin, an older sister who lives a few doors away, said, "I am so used to her calling me and asking me to go somewhere in that red Corvette she loved to drive."
The 1994 sports car, parked in the driveway, was the fulfillment of Shirley's high-school dream, said Irwin.
"When we went to Patterson High, kids always wanted a Corvette," Irwin said.
A decal that read "Cowgirls rule" decorates the rear window of the car. Ladies' black driving gloves sit on the dash just above the steering wheel. The license plate reads "Shurley."
"It was her baby, and she wanted everyone to know this 'vette was hers," said Brian Shea, a nephew. "She called it Shurl."
Tex Worcester, a safety director for C&S; groceries in Aberdeen, had just returned to his office from a road trip to Harrisburg on Wednesday when a relative called to tell him of the shooting.
"I had just spoken with Shirley a few hours before," he said. "She told me she had all the decorations down and all I had to do was put the stuff away."
Dawn Paul, Shirley's 36-year-old daughter, received a similar call as she was on her way home from Franklin Square hospital, where she works as a receptionist in the emergency room. Police cars had blocked the entrance to her mother's street. When she identified herself, an officer immediately drove her back to the hospital.
"But I didn't get to say goodbye," she said.
Paul said she cannot yet tell her three young children the grandmother they called "Emma" is gone.
"She loved her home and living here," Paul said. "She was a great, loving person who would give you the shirt off her back. We talked every day, many times."
Instead of taking down the holiday lights in the backyard yesterday, Tex Worcester was making funeral arrangements for his wife. For many years, the couple had managed Little Texas, a bar on Route 40 in Rosedale.
"It was always our favorite place," he said. "We will all go back there after the funeral."