Aldona Pilius sat on her living room sofa yesterday, surrounded by her four young sons, searching for words to describe the loss of her husband, who was kidnapped and found bludgeoned to death in the dank basement of a vacant East Baltimore rowhouse.
"Mom, don't cry," said 3-year-old Vitas, bouncing on his mother's knee. "OK," Mrs. Pilius said, fighting back tears, "I won't."
But even in the midst of her pain, Mrs. Pilius thanked the many people who have been by her side since her husband, Vitalis Pilius, turned up missing Tuesday night.
"The entire community has gotten together behind me," she said.
Family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers of the Hewlett-Packard support technician joined the search for him. They combed parking lots, retraced his appointments and drove city streets in the hope of finding any sign of him or his Mercury station wagon.
A posse of about 15 searched for Mr. Pilius for two days, part of the time in snow and sleet. On Thursday evening, Remigijus Balciunas spotted his brother-in-law's car downtown in the 100 block of Park Avenue.
"Mine was simply blind luck," Mr. Balciunas said. "Once I saw the car, it was just a matter of following the people."
On foot, Mr. Balciunas was able to follow the car a short distance to the front of the Omni Hotel, where four people got out and went inside. They walked into an elevator and rode upstairs.
"I just watched the numbers to see what floor they got off on, and I called the police," Mr. Balciunas said.
Police came to the hotel and arrested three people, one of whom was eventually charged in a related kidnapping.
Police said the suspects rented three rooms at the hotel using Mr. Pilius' credit card.
Mr. Pilius, 37, was found dead Friday morning in the basement of a rowhouse in the 2200 block of Mura Street. He had been beaten to death with a 5-foot metal pipe, according to charging documents.
Police have linked the murder of Mr. Pilius with two other kidnappings where men were confronted in parking garages, forced into their cars and made to turn over their bank and credit cards.
Four teen-agers have been arrested and charged in the crimes.
Dontay Carter, 18, who has no fixed address and was recently released from prison after serving 2 1/2 years on weapons charges, and Clarence H. Woodward, 16, of the 2400 block of Hoffman Street were charged with murder in Mr. Pilius' slaying.
News of the arrest numbed those closest to Mr. Woodward, whom they described as a quiet young man with plans to straighten up his life.
"I really didn't know what was going on in the past few days," said Valerie Fliggins, 17, the mother of Mr. Woodward's 14-month-old son. "But I knew something was wrong. He wanted me to hug him and hold him. He said something was on his mind."
Valerie Kelly, Ms. Fliggins' mother, said she let Mr. Woodward live with her family because his mother had moved to Washington. Also, she said, he wanted to be with Ms. Fliggins and his son.
"So I let him have a little family here," said Ms. Kelly, as she held her grandson, Marquice Woodward, on her knee. "If they were together doing everything right, I didn't see a problem. I wanted to help them."
Although Mr. Woodward had once spent time in the Charles H. Hickey School for juvenile offenders, he seemed to be on the right road lately, Ms. Kelly said. He worked full time at a fast-food restaurant and had enrolled in a GED class. He doted on his son, and he was very affectionate toward Ms. Fliggins.
"We did everything together," Ms. Fliggins said. "He was doing all right. He wasn't getting into any trouble. He just went to work and came home."
Said Ms. Kelly: "Everything was fine until this Dontay came up. He is somebody who just came out of the closet one day and started trouble.
"I feel like somebody in here died."
Mr. Carter was recently released from prison, said a woman who answered the door at the address he gave to police.
"He used to play with my children. He was just a kid," the woman said. "I was surprised when the police came here looking for him. He never has lived here. I haven't seen him for almost three years."