Bolling Brook copes with tragic death

September 13, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

The initial shock of Pam Basu's death is over. Remaining are the painful memories of a morning of unimagineable violence, a family grieving for a loved one and a community trying to come to grips with a lingering sense of fear and helplessness.

"She's every woman or every man's wife," said Savage resident Ellen Waff of 34-year-old Mrs. Basu, the victim of a fatal car-jacking Tuesday morning. "It's a horror story come true. . . . But she gives it form and brings it home."

Mrs. Basu, the mother of a 22-month-old girl, was forced from her car by two men at a stop sign near her home. She became caught in a seat belt on the driver's side and was dragged nearly two miles to her death on Gorman Road.

Residents in the Bolling Brook Farm community, where Mrs. Basu lived, have been left to cope with the emotional aftermath of a crime so shocking it attracted national attention. They're questioning their own safety and can't help thinking it could have happened to anyone.

"It's been so devastating in so many different ways to folks in the community," said Sharon Tillotson, a Bolling Brook Farm resident. "We're feeling the burden of loss for the husband and family, and lots of folks are experiencing a sense of loss themselves."

For Bolling Brook residents, coping with the intrusion of violence into their lives has taken different forms.

At a town meeting with county police on Wednesday, hundreds of residents expressed their outrage and called for the death penalty for the two men charged with murder in Mrs. Basu's death.

The Health Department has begun to receive calls from neighborhood residents seeking counseling. And Bolling Brook residents have joined together to help the Basu family and each other.

A trust fund has been established for the Basu's daughter, Sarina, and a group of neighbors organizing volunteers to prepare meals for the Basu family have gotten an overwhelming response, including donations from local businesses.

"Everyone you see wants to do something," said a neighbor who didn't want to be identified. "People will say, 'I can't cook, but do they need child care or some Huggies?' "

Barb Frasca, a seamstress in Carroll County, is making a dress for Sarina.

"I don't know how I would feel, I can't fathom it," she said. "I just wanted to send a thinking-of-you type thing."

Larry White, owner of the Exxon station in Savage, plans to post signs about the trust fund at his station.

"If I do it for a week with the amount of traffic I have through the station it could add up to $60 or $70 a day," Mr. White said.

At Mr. White's suggestion, the Savage Community Association and local Savage merchants plan to make a collective donation to the trust fund.

After the events of last week, residents of the Bolling Brook community, many of whom moved there to escape urban crime, are questioning how safe they really are.

About 40 people at Wednesday's meeting signed up for crime- prevention programs offered by county police. Police will schedule a community presentation on personal safety and hope to recruit a resident from Bolling Brook to participate in the neighborhood liaison program.

"I think everybody's going to think twice about personal safety," said Cherie McNett, president of the Bolling Brook Community As sociation.

Many residents at Wednesday's meeting wanted to know why there was no school crossing guard posted at Forest Ridge Elementary School on Gorman Road the morning of the car-jacking. Mrs. Basu's abductors drove right by the school and her body was found about a mile up the road.

Major Mark Paterni, of the county police, said the department is conducting an internal investigation to explain the absence of a crossing guard, which is a civilian position. The guard position at Forest Ridge has not yet been filled, but an officer has been posted at the school since Tuesday.

Major Paterni said there were five vacant crossing guard posts, and one guard called in sick Tuesday morning.

Another topic of concern raised at the meeting was the two rest stops on either side of Interstate 95 at the Gorman Road overpass. Mrs. Basu's attackers apparently walked through the woods behind one of the rest stops to enter the Bolling Brook community. Residents said there should be strong barriers behind the rest areas, perhaps topped with razor wire, to discourage trespassers.

Although many residents support a vigilant stance when it comes to personal safety, they don't think it could have prevented the attack on Mrs. Basu.

"It's a big-city thing, and once in a while it sneaks up in this town," said Mr. White.

The county Health Department is prepared to offer counseling to anyone who needs help dealing with adverse emotional and psychological reactions to Mrs. Basu's death.

According to Dr. Helen Lann, director of community mental health services, normal reactions to such a crime include a heightened sense of anxiety, fearfulness, taking extra safety precautions and waking up at night.

Dr. Lann said it is possible for severe reactions to such a traumatic event to develop into post- traumatic stress syndrome. More intense reactions may include recurring, intrusive thoughts the event, difficulty concentrating, an obsession with safety, increased irritability or nightmares.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms for several weeks should contact a mental health professional, Dr. Lann said.

To speak with a county mental health counselor, call 313-6200.

-- Anyone wishing to help the Basu family may send donations to: The Sarina Basu Trust Fund, c/o Sandy Spring National Bank, 3535 Spencerville Road, Burtonsville, Md. 20866.

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