A suspect in eight of the "shotgun" gang robberies that hav frightened the public and put police on alert throughout the Baltimore area was arrested yesterday afternoon in Newport News, Va.
Details of the arrest were not immediately available, but Virginia authorities confirmed that 19-year-old Sadiyq Abdullah Muhammed, also known as Tony Bedford, was being held last night in the Newport News city jail.
The suspect has been charged in arrest warrants with eight robberies and attempts in Baltimore city and county, including XTC the Feb. 28 holdup at the Pikesville Holiday Inn in which an assistant manager was shot and seriously wounded.
County police spokesman E. Jay Miller said robbery detectives were on the way to Newport News last night to seek extradition of the suspect.
The robberies at area businesses have kept the police busy, not only seeking suspects but advising possible crime targets on safety precautions.
And they have been changing the way people go about their daily lives, as healthy caution turns to fear.
Local businesses are dumping cash receipts into drop safes. Employees are wearing less jewelry. Customers are jittery, and the police have been flooded with calls about suspicious people.
"We make sure that there's not a lot of money on hand," said Duane Duke, night manager of a Bob's Big Boy on Reisterstown Road near the Beltway. "It goes in the drop safe that can only be opened in the morning by the armored car drivers."
Said Sgt. Richard Barger, a robbery detective in Northeast Baltimore: "Calls for suspicious people have exploded. People are calling in with descriptions and license tag numbers. As caution goes, that's good, but it has really increased the
amount of information we are running down."
And while customers don't seem to have wholly abandoned the American routine of eating in fast-food restaurants and dropping by convenience stores, the crime spree is on their minds.
"We've got a problem," said Keith Simmons, a Pikesville businessman eating hamburgers with his wife and four children Thursday night at the Big Boy's on Reisterstown Road -- next-door to the Holiday Inn shooting scene.
Mr. Simmons' response to the problem is to carry a gun, which he bought and registered two years ago after he and his wife happened upon an armed robbery at an ice cream store.
"You're talking about guys with shotguns and semi-automatics," Simmons said. "That's dangerous. What's one policeman going to do against that?"
Mrs. Simmons said she has stopped taking her children grocery shopping with her and doesn't allow her mother-in-law to take the kids to areas she thinks are dangerous.
"[What] this has stopped us from doing is shopping on Liberty Road," she said, referring to a supermarket robbery there. "It's scary. I don't want the children going anywhere without me."
In most of the holdups, at least one of the suspect has carried a shotgun, which has led to them being dubbed the "shotgun bandits."
The police say that all of the bandits are young, black, tall and slim, and known to wear long coats. That has created fear when more than one person fitting that description walks into a store, business managers say.
Said Sergeant Barger: "It's not prejudice; it's fear."
"You watch everything and everyone that comes in, especiallyoung black men," said Cherees Clark, manager of a Burger King at 8802 Liberty Road that was hit by the gang two months ago.
"It's not a good feeling to be so suspicious of another African-American person. It's like, there's no reason that I should feel that way about another African-American person, but I can't help it."
Mrs. Clark, who attends church regularly with her husband and 3-year-old child, said she says an extra prayer before she begins her one night a week at the Liberty Road Burger King.
"I help run another restaurant for the owner on Nursery Road," said Mrs. Clark. "There I feel more relaxed.
"They hit this store before. I don't feel safe. I was considering telling my boss that I only wanted to work at the other store."
Mary Zittle, a Cub Hill mother of two supermarket clerks who work in Baltimore County, was at a Hardee's on Joppa Road Thursday night buying burgers and chatting with the manager about the robberies.
Mrs. Zittle said that because of the robberies she now goes grocery shopping without her wedding rings and that because the violence is on her mind, she is distracted from her shopping list as she goes up and down the aisles.
What she really worries about, she said, is the safety of her sons -- not because their stores have been hit but because they haven't.
At a McDonald's on Liberty Heights Road near Northern Parkway, night manager Angela Moore said she can't stop thinking about the robberies which have occurred at businesses all around her.
While her McDonald's was robbed three times last year, Ms. Moore feels lucky to have avoided the shotgun gangs so far.
"Everything has been robbed around here but us," she said. "I consider it luck. It's scary. I think about it all the time." She said employees have been told to dump cash regularly into the store's drop safe.
Said Cherees Clark: "I have relatives serving in the [Persian] Gulf and they keep writing us, telling us how we're going to be so united when we come back. I almost hate to write them back that we have our own war going on in Maryland. It's ridiculous."
Metro Crime Stoppers is offering as much as $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of the people responsible for a spate of armed robberies at fast-food restaurants, banks and supermarkets in the Baltimore area. Anyone with information may call 276-8888, 24 hours a day.