Year in Review: Rite Aid shooting was most recent high-profile gun violence in Harford County

The mass shooting at a Rite Aid warehouse near Aberdeen in September left three employees dead, three others injured — and Harford County again reeling, in the national spotlight from its third incident of high-profile gun violence in as many years.

Three employees had been killed and two others injured in a workplace shooting at Advanced Granite Solutions in Edgewood 11 months earlier, and two sheriff’s deputies were shot to death in Abingdon in February 2016 in the lightly populated, low-crime, once largely rural county.

County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican whom Harford voters re-elected in 2018, dedicated part of his second inaugural address to discussing the loss of innocence from what he calls “national reflections of workplace violence in a fairly quiet community.”

“We have adjusted to that,” Glassman said. “The fabric of the county is strong.”

Those adjustments, large and small, are being felt throughout the county.

Thousands have received active-shooter training, required in school and government buildings and offered to churches, businesses and other community groups. A 24/7 crisis center for people with mental health issues is in the works. The county library system has adopted Howard County’s “Choose Civility” campaign, emphasizing to children and adults the importance of being kind to each other.

Some of the changes have been shocking to Glassman, 56, a former paramedic with the Level Volunteer Fire Company.

“Family members and coworkers know how to apply a tourniquet if they have to. You would never think that in the old days,” he said. “Back in the old days, it was ‘airway, breathing, circulation.’ Now it is ‘triage, tourniquets, run-fight-hide.’ The whole terminology has changed.”

Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, who briefed local and national news outlets after the shootings, said he is “not naive” after a nearly three-decade career in the Maryland State Police.

While the shootings are anomalies amid an overall drop in crime, the sheriff said, the recent high-profile gun violence was “not the Harford County any of us are used to.”

“You’d like to think we’re special and horrific things can’t happen here,” said Gahler, who was re-elected this year. “It was certainly reinforced in my brain that we are just as vulnerable as any other community out there.”

The victims in the Rite Aid shooting on the morning of Sept. 20 at a distribution center in Perryman, an unincorporated area of the county, were all parents who had immigrated to the U.S. for a better life.

Brindra Giri, 41, had moved to Towson from Nepal with her 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son four months earlier; Sunday Aguda, who lived in Dundalk, talked constantly about his children in Nigeria and would have celebrated his 45th birthday the following week; and Hayleen Reyes, 21, moved from the Dominican Republic to Baltimore, where she lived with her 1-year-old daughter.

The shooter, temporary employee Snochia Moseley, 26, injured three others — Hassan Mitchell, 19, of Harford County; Wilfredo Villegas, 45, of Montgomery County; and Purna Acharya, 45, of New York — before killing herself.

Moseley’s motive remains unclear to authorities. Video footage shows she was targeting her victims, but she did not take much time to steady her aim.

Relatives and friends of Moseley told authorities that she had become more and more agitated in the weeks before the shooting, although they did not report their concerns to law enforcement.

“Words were exchanged” between Moseley and one or more co-workers after she cut in line earlier in the morning, Gahler said after the shooting, but detectives do not think that disagreement necessarily caused her to go home, retrieve a gun and open fire on her co-workers.

“There was no forewarning,” the sheriff said at the time. “Other than her leaving, there was really nothing unusual said or done by her.”

In searching her White Marsh home, deputies found “evidence” she was suffering from a mental illness, according to Gahler, although he did not say what they found or what condition Moseley had, only that she had been diagnosed with a mental illness in 2016.

The Rite Aid shooting was among several instances of gun violence in Maryland and other parts of the country in 2018. A gunman stormed the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis on June 28, killing five staff members and injuring two others. Jarrod Ramos, a Laurel man with a grudge against the newspaper, is awaiting trial on 23 charges. In March, a student at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland shot and killed a 16-year-old girl and injured a 14-year old boy before killing himself.

The suspect in the previous Harford workplace shooting, on Oct. 17, 2017, at Advanced Granite Solutions in Edgewood, employee Radee L. Prince, 39, is awaiting trial on murder and firearm charges in Maryland. He was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in a separate shooting of a business owner later that day in Wilmington, Del., where he was arrested after a manhunt.

A Harford County judge has ordered insanity and competency evaluations of Prince, who said in a motion in May that he plans to present an insanity defense at his trial, which is scheduled for February.

Gahler said he is candid about the toll of the shootings on his deputies when civilians ask.

“Things are going well, overall, considering what we go through,” Gahler said he tells them.

Many in the county shared their admiration for them and for other law enforcement partners, he said, especially after the 2016 killings of Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon in the line of duty.

The county’s efforts, down to the “Choose Civility” campaign in the libraries, are designed to create a safer Harford, Glassman said.

“We’re just going out and trying to lower the temperature,” the county executive said, “talking about listening to one another, at the very least, being kind to one another, just those easy things. I think it’s been pretty well received so far.”

While Gahler’s first campaign emphasized the importance of active-shooter training and a strong response to the opioid epidemic, he said, “I never thought they would be the meat and potatoes, if you will, of our efforts.”

“It’s a different world of policing than it was when I retired from the state police in 2012,” he said.

The shootings in the past few years have been a reminder that while Harford remains a generally safe county, nowhere is completely immune to the national gun violence crisis, Gahler said.

“I’m just hopeful we see no more of them,” Gahler said. “Unfortunately, we’ve shown that we know how to respond to them.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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