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Police respond to threats of another 'purge'

Police assemble in the parking lot at the Security Square Mall, which was closed Tuesday amid reports of possible violence following Monday's riots in the city.
Police assemble in the parking lot at the Security Square Mall, which was closed Tuesday amid reports of possible violence following Monday's riots in the city. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Responding to social media rumors about another planned "purge" Tuesday afternoon, police guarded shopping centers and malls around Baltimore city and county, but the threats were unfounded.

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said that his agency deemed none of the threats credible, but deployed police around the county just to be sure. "Purge" is a reference to a movie in which crime is made legal.

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Given the frustration still simmering across West Baltimore, one young man walking through the parking lot of Security Square Mall in Woodlawn said the threat was still serious.

"It could happen at any time," said Alex Winfield, a 22-year-old Woodlawn resident who came with a group of friends to see if there were any crowds around the mall. With West Baltimore just a few miles away, crowds could easily drive to the mall, a popular gathering space, he said.

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He said he spent some time on North Avenue during Monday's riots and understands the anger.

"A lot of things that went on yesterday were really uncalled for," Winfield said. But, he added, "it's not just one thing that led up to yesterday's events."

Security Square Mall officials said they decided to close Tuesday morning after consulting with police, though police stressed that they did not order any shopping centers or businesses to close. The nearby Social Security Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent thousands of employees home by early afternoon.

At the mall, there was a visible presence of county and state police. All entrances to the mall were blocked, and a helicopter circled overhead as the appointed "purge" hour of 3:30 p.m., as advertised on social media, came and went.

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Owings Mills Mall was also tagged on social media for a supposed "purge," but all was quiet Tuesday afternoon. The mall was closed, as were shops at the Metro Centre at Owings Mills development nearby.

A sign in a Subway shop at the Metro Centre read: "Sorry, we are closed because of the bad situation of Baltimore City."

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said that he hoped the violent demonstrations would abate in the city and not spread to the county.

"We support everybody's right to peaceful protest, but whatever is happening now has nothing to do with Freddie Gray. We will not tolerate criminal activity in Baltimore County," Kamenetz said.

He urged county residents to go about their normal activities.

County schools did cancel after-school activities and games Tuesday, but Kamenetz said that decision was not based on safety concerns. Rather, he said, many parents indicated that they would keep their children home anyway.

The Woodlawn and Owings Mills library branches in the county closed early, as did campuses of Towson University and the Community College of Baltimore County to allow students and patrons to get home before Baltimore City's 10 p.m. curfew.

Postings on Twitter indicated that another disturbance was possible at the Northwood Plaza shopping center near Morgan State University. By early evening, the Save-A-Lot grocery store and other shops were closed with their metal doors rolled down. But the plaza's sidewalks were quiet save for some children on bicycles and scooters.

An air of tension hung over the Alameda Marketplace on The Alameda near Northern Parkway on Tuesday afternoon. The strip shopping center had been the target of vandalism Monday, and about two dozen police officers from the Baltimore and Howard County police departments were standing guard about 5 p.m.

The Shoppers grocery store and two carry-outs remained open under guard, but most other stores were closed.

At the Rainbow Shop clothing store, assistant manager D'Juan Rose was waiting for workers to board up the shop's shattered door, but she wasn't planning to hang around after dark if they didn't come soon. Rose was hopeful the shop could reopen as early as Wednesday.

"I think it will be clear tonight," she said.

Jordan Wilson, 23, of the Beechdale neighborhood, said the circumstances of Freddie Gray's death "really bothered" people, but she was hoping for reconciliation.

"We are all people and we are all human and we all deserve respect," Wilson said.

Back at Security Square Mall, Peter Joseph stood in the parking lot waiting for truck drivers to come to haul away the carnival rides that he normally would have been setting up for a two-week run. After talking with police and mall management Tuesday morning, he decided to cancel the carnival.

"It's a big disappointment for everybody," said Joseph, president of Annapolis-based Jolly Shows. "What's sad is the people causing these problems could care less about Freddie Gray."

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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