It was Phyllis Hornfeck's practice to wait for a co-worker to arrive each morning before she opened the doors of the Maryland National Bank branch on Franklintown Road, where she worked as head teller. It was a small precaution, she believed, but one that added a measure of safety to her job.
But yesterday, as the 60-year-old Mrs. Hornfeck sat alone in the front seat of her van just before 8 a.m. waiting for her co-worker to arrive, a man drove onto the parking lot, pulled his car next to Mrs. Hornfeck's van and rolled down his car window.
It is unclear whether any words were exchanged between the two, but within seconds Mrs. Hornfeck was dead -- shot in her head and side by the man, who fired a large-caliber gun through the rolled-up window of the passenger side of her van, apparently without ever getting out of his car, according to witnesses.
A 28-year employee of Maryland National, Mrs. Hornfeck is survived by her husband, three sons and eight grandchildren.
"I believe it was a blundered robbery attempt," said Sgt. Jay C. Landsman of the Baltimore homicide squad. "The guy just panicked."
The gunman, described as about 30 years old and wearing a beanie-type hat, sped from the bank's parking lot in the 500 block of Franklintown Road and headed east on Lauretta Avenue, witnesses said.
The 1985 Mazda he was driving was found abandoned two blocks away, at Lauretta and Evergreen avenues. The police said the car had been reported stolen Wednesday in Northeast Baltimore.
Investigators said they can only assume that the gunman had planned to rob the bank.
"It doesn't take a mental giant to realize that someone is going to arrive and open that bank before 9 a.m.," Sergeant Landsman said. "It wasn't something that had been planned down to the minute."
Mrs. Hornfeck still had the keys to the bank and personal valuables when she was found slumped behind the wheel, the police said.
Investigators and relatives of Mrs. Hornfeck's said that Mrs. Hornfeck met punctually with another employee each day to open the bank branch because she thought that entering the bank each morning with another employee provided some degree of safety.
As word of the shooting spread through the neighborhood, several residents and business people said they were shocked and saddened, but not surprised, that such a tragedy had struck in an area where crime has become an increasing problem.
"I'm not surprised that this happened here," said Tanya Williams, 35, of the 200 block of Culver Street, who was on her way to the bank where, after the murder, a sign had been posted outside reading: "Due to circumstances beyond our control we are forced to close temporarily."
The community, Ms. Williams said, "needs to take the neighborhood back. They need to say, 'I live here.' If people knew that the neighborhood was watching and would tell the police about what's going on, people wouldn't do these things."
But, she added, "It's getting worse around here. It's sad. . . . I don't leave my house until it's busy. When it's busy, it's safer."
Charles Jackson, 65, who works part time at a neighborhood liquor store, said he has been held up once and shot once.
"I'm not surprised at anything anymore," he said from behind bulletproof glass.
"This used to be a nice neighborhood," said Mr. Jackson, who has been in the area for 35 years. "But it's been getting worse."
"I tell you I'm frightened, I'm really afraid," said Anna Caldwell, who works at a store in the 2800 block of Edmondson Avenue. "Someone could come in here when I'm in the back and kill me, and no one would ever see it."
Meanwhile, as relatives gathered at Mrs. Hornfeck's home in a quiet tree-lined community in Catonsville, two of her sons, Nelson, 32, and Carl, 34, sat talking quietly outside.
The sons said that Mrs. Hornfeck loved her job -- the job where she had met her husband, Carl Gilbert Hornfeck, 67, who retired several years ago as a Maryland National vice president. The sons said their mother, who had worked at the Franklintown Road branch for about three years, had planned to retire in a couple of years.
"She loved her work. She did her job. The people couldn't say enough about her," Carl Hornfeck said. "Customers made a habit of stopping by her window."
"It's stupid that it had to happen," Nelson Hornfeck said. "The rest you can't print."