Relatives and neighbors of Harold Leon Webb, the elderly Hereford man who was fatally shot early today after he opened his door to two young strangers who said their car had broken down, say there was nothing unusual about Webb and his wife offering help to stranded motorists.
"That's just the kind of neighborhood this is," said one neighbor in the rural northern Baltimore County community off Interstate 83.
But what is unusual is that a helping hand offered to strangers could result in a death.
Webb, 75, was slain today at his home in the 16000 block of York Road during an apparent robbery. He and his wife, Joann, had offered the use of their telephone to couple who alleged their car had broken down, Baltimore County police said.
"It appears robbery was the motive, although they fled without taking anything," said Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger, county police spokesman.
"From what we know," Doarnberger said, "it looks like these people were targeted and were not hit at random."
Harold Webb was pronounced dead shortly after 1 a.m. Joann H. Webb, 66, was uninjured.
According to the police, Webb and his wife were awakened about 12:45 a.m. today by a knock on the door from a couple who said their car had broken down.
Herst Hessey, Joann Webb's son and Harold Webb's stepson, said his mother heard the knock at the door but enlisted the help of her husband because she suffers from arthritis and has difficulty opening doors.
"It's not uncommon for people to break down around here," Hessey said. "I don't know what it is about this area but a lot of people seem to end up in the hedges over there."
The Webbs lived in a large, six-bedroom brick house on 12 acres of land. The home, with a greenhouse attached and a barn in the rear, is surrounded by shrubbery and trees.
While Harold Webb stood talking to the couple in the hallway, his wife went into another room to get a portable telephone, police said.
Police said that when Joann Webb attempted to show the stranger how to use the phone, he jumped behind her and attempted to enter the front portion of the house.
Joann Webb hit the man with the phone and attempted to prevent him from entering another room but was pushed aside, police said.
Hessey said his mother chased the man through her home in an effort to get him out. During the brief confrontation, she also threw a sewing basket and stepladder at the man, said Hessey, 36.
The intruder then pulled out a handgun and fired at least one shot at the wife, police said. Hessey said it was not until long after police arrived that Joann Webb realized that a bullet had pierced both her robe and pajama leg. She, however, was not injured.
Police said that as Joann Webb was attempting to catch up to the man, she heard at least three shots coming from the front part of the house, where she had left her husband talking to the man's female companion.
As the man ran out the back door, the wife found her husband lying on the floor in the hallway in the front of the house and bleeding from bullet wounds, police said. In the confusion, police said, the intruders fled the house without taking any property.
Police said the wife dialed 911, which dispatched a medic crew from the Hereford Volunteer Ambulance Company. Shortly after it arrived, the crew pronounced the husband dead at the scene.
Police said Joann Webb did not recall seeing any strange car on her property and was unable to tell police in which direction the man and woman fled.
She described the couple as being white and in their early to mid-20s.
She said the woman was wearing a black leather jacket and a dark leather cap.
Doarnberger said the male suspect is about 6 feet tall and slim and was wearing a close-fitting cap.
According to Hessey, the couple had been married since 1966 and were planning to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary this month.
Each had been married previously, Hessey said. They had a total of nine children from the previous marriages, he said.
Hessey said his mother and stepfather were not naive about the dangers of opening their doors to strangers. But they also were not the type of people to turn their backs on someone in need.
"It wasn't uncommon for people to come to the house and ask for assistance," Hessey said. "It was very ordinary for them to help out. In fact, during the 1966 blizzard a man from Vermont moved in with us for a week after his car broke down."
Harold Webb, a native of Maryland, was retired from the construction business, Hessey said. He often worked on the construction of schools. Harold Webb also owned a service station at one time, Hessey said.
Hessey said his mother was doing as well as could be expected. He said it was not known whether his mother would be staying in her home tonight or with family.
"We're still trying to sort everything out," Hessey said. "It's just hard to believe this really happened."