Administrators at Southeast Middle School in Baltimore were attempting to allay fears of parents and students today after the fatal shooting of the school's head custodian.
"Some parents have . . . shown some anxiety," said principal John E. Mohamed. He said some parents were accompanying their children to school and inquiring about safety.
"Frankly, I can't blame them," he said. Mohamed added that psychologists, counselors and others were to speak to students and parents about the shooting yesterday of Barbara A. Thrower, 44, of the 2000 block of E. Lanvale St., who had been the school's head custodian for nearly a year.
About 3 p.m. yesterday, an electrical contractor arriving to do air-conditioning work at the school discovered the fully clothed body of Thrower lying on her back in the boiler room on the ground floor of the school, in the 6800 block of Fait Ave. near O'Donnell Street.
Thrower had been shot several times in the head and chest, police said. Police said Thrower's body was taken to the state medical examiner's office to attempt to determine the time of death and the number of gunshot wounds.
In addition to talking with parents and students about the incident, Mohamed said security at the school had been increased. School officials said there was normally one school police officer at Southeast Middle School, at arrival and dismissal times. Other officers also work at nearby schools and can be called if needed.
As of today, though, one officer was assigned to the school full time. Mohamed added that a city police officer who graduated from the school was volunteering his time there while not on duty with the Police Department.
Agent Arlene Jenkins, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said someone had gone through Thrower's purse and the contents were spread nearby on the floor. Her pants pockets had been turned inside out.
The shooting occurred in the rear of the school, away from normal student traffic, Jenkins said. The school has about 800 students and most would have been gone for the day before the body was discovered.
Police said no one reported hearing gunshots, perhaps because the boiler room is so noisy.
School officials and the man who found Thrower did not realize initially that she had been shot, Jenkins said.
"At first, they thought it was an electrocution," she said. "But when the ambulance got here, they determined she had died from gunshot wounds."
Jenkins and Douglas J. Neilson, spokesman for the city school system, said electrocution was first considered because Thrower was in a small control room that has an electrical panel.
Neilson said Victoria Jones, a mathematics teacher who also is a registered nurse, attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Thrower.
Police said they have no motive or suspects. They declined to say if they believed the assailant worked inside the school or was an intruder.
Neilson said school officials had concluded that all doors to the school, except the main entrance, had been locked at the time of the shooting. The main entrance, which is within sight of the administrative offices, also is monitored by a security camera. Neilson said today that no one had noticed anyone suspicious entering or leaving the school.
About 5 p.m. yesterday, forensics workers dusted the crime scene for fingerprints, including the rear, yellow door to the boiler room. Two custodians said that door is always locked.
Neilson said Thrower, the supervisor of three other custodians, had worked at the school since February. She had been in the city school system since September 1987.
"She was a hard worker," Neilson said. "She was very well-liked and got along with everybody."
The shooting "was a blow, believe me," said custodian Doris Tazewell. "Last week, she was talking about what to buy another custodian for Christmas.
"I said get him a box of cigars, because he smokes cigars. She just laughed."
Tazewell said she now will come in and work her supervisor's 6:30 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shift. She normally works 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
She said she couldn't speculate what could have happened to allow the killer to get to Thrower.
"I have no idea," Tazewell said. "Somebody might have rang the back doorbell and she might have opened it, thinking it was a delivery person."
Since the back door always is locked, visitors must enter through the front door, Tazewell said.
Eugene Vaughn, another custodian, sat with Tazewell in a school room upstairs as police conducted their investigation in the boiler room.
Vaughn said the school badly needs outside lights for security with darkness coming early during winter months.
"Everybody has to be extra cautious now," Vaughn said.
Earlier in the day, Vaughn said, Thrower was missing. The principal and other school workers tried to find her but without success, he said.
Vaughn said he had looked everywhere except the boiler room. "If I had gone back there, I would have found her."
Tazewell said Thrower's spirits were high before the Thanksgiving Day holiday. She said Thrower was married, had an adult daughter and lived with her elderly parents.
"On Wednesday, the last time I saw her, she was talking about going home to fix that dinner," Tazewell said.