When Ivory Williams heard the explosion near his home in Woodlawn Saturday morning, he peered out his front door and saw a man dressed all in black standing outside. Williams called out, asking the man if he was all right.
When the man turned around, Williams realized it was his neighbor from two doors down. The same neighbor who had harassed his family for years, so much so that they went to court less than two months ago to secure a peace order against him.
Then, Williams saw the gun.
“It looked like his gun was jammed. He was trying to un-jam his gun,” said Williams, 49. “I ducked and ran back into the house and slammed the door.”
Later, he discovered that he forgot to lock it.
Now, the Williams family is left to wonder what might have happened if their neighbor’s rampage wasn’t cut short. Police shot and killed 56-year-old Everton Brown Saturday, after he set fire to his townhouse in the Parkview Crossing complex, barged into the home next door and killed two of the occupants and shot two other neighbors in the parking lot, killing one.
“It is just bewildering to us that he would do that to our next door neighbors, being that he was targeting us for so long,” said Ivory Williams Jr., 22. “There’s just no telling the thought process of this man. There’s just no telling.”
The explosion and fire tore through a group of townhomes, leaving the Williams family’s home badly damaged by smoke, fire and water from the firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze.
County officials said at a Monday news conference in Towson that investigators are combing through forensic evidence, as well as 30 years of Brown’s interactions with authorities, including multiple police departments.
“We have a lot of questions,” said Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa R. Hyatt.
Col. Andre Davis said police had numerous contacts with Brown over the years, including three peace orders filed against Brown. Over many years, Brown had interactions with patrol, outreach officers and the crisis intervention team.
Davis said Brown had two guns legally registered to him, one of which was seized in 2010 by Baltimore Police. Investigators said they believe the second gun is the one Brown used Saturday.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said this is the second time in recent weeks where there has been a “nexus” of a mental health component with a multiple shooting in the county. In late March, 27-year-old Joshua Green killed four people, including his parents, before turning the gun on himself. The county executive said the shootings reveal shortcomings in the current system for mental health treatment, adding there’s a “need to take a serious look at gaps that exist out there” to determine what changes must be made.
According to the Williams family, they endured years of Brown shouting obscenities at them alleging they were working with federal agents to surveil him, a delusion that seemed to fuel his every move. He kept a large sign on his car, warning of illegal searches by the authorities, carefully placed tape on his door whenever he left and built a fence in his backyard, and then another stacked on top of it, the Williams family said.
“If I came out to my car, coming from work, going to the grocery store, checking the mailbox. It did not matter,” said Kara Williams, 50, if Brown was out there, he’d usually say something.
“He used to say my husband went into his house. He said ‘I know you were in there because you left a cigarette butt there.’ He said we went into his home and poisoned his dogs. It has been hell with him living two doors from us,” she said. “Every day it’s like ‘Oh god, is he outside?’”
They saw him yell at other neighbors too, including the Quintanillas. Brown killed two members of that family — Ismael Quintanilla, 41, and his wife Sara Alacote, 37 — after forcing his way into their home, police say.
“The same thing he would do to us, he would do the same thing to them,” Ivory Williams said. “They would have company over and have encounters, they would try to ignore it.”
The Williams family decided to file a peace order against Brown in the wake of an incident earlier this year when Williams Jr. came home, pulled into his parking spot and saw Brown, whose parking spot wasn’t nearby, pull in beside him. Brown stepped out of his car and pointed a flashlight at Williams Jr., who sat inside, according to family and the court filling. After Williams Jr. got out of the car to confront him, Brown pulled a bat from his vehicle and began to chase him, said Williams Jr., who took shelter in his home.
When the police arrived, they told the family that Brown had a long history of confrontations with others, and they didn’t plan to detain him, Kara Williams said.
But weeks later, Brown filed assault charges against Williams Jr., the family said, and the police came to speak with them again, recommending they try to get a peace order.
The family secured one on April 5 that was scheduled to last six months, and the charges against Williams Jr. weren’t prosecuted, Kara Williams said.
“Once we got the peace order, he still would say things like: ‘Oh, I can’t get y’all right now, but I’m gonna get you one day.’” Williams Jr. said. “When you’ve been living next door to somebody for over 10 years who does stuff like that every day, you don’t know what to take serious.”
Brown appealed the peace order, according to court documents, and a hearing was scheduled for June.
The family tried to bring the incidents to the attention of the homeowners association, but representatives told them they couldn’t do anything to stop Brown’s behavior, Kara Williams said.
Over the years, a number of residents complained about Brown, said Shireen Hodge, president of the Fair Brook Home Owners Association, which also covers Parkview Crossing. The association often told them to contact law enforcement, or reach out to a tow company if Brown parked his vehicle in their parking spot, something he tended to do on occasion.
“My advice has always been: You have the right to call the police if you feel that the situation is escalating,” Hodge said.
Kara Williams said she found out Friday that Brown was appealing her peace order. The next day, she awoke to the sound of Brown’s home erupting into flames.
Now, the family is living in a hotel with the belongings they salvaged from their home in trash bags, thankful that they escaped the violence and eager to move away from the neighborhood.
“We are ever so grateful we have our life,” Kara Williams said. “All this can be replaced. But it could have been avoided.”