Callous Response to Tragedy ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

September 03, 1993

Try this for a new low in tact and a new high in callousness: Since the Aug. 26 murder of 21-year-old Charles Hottel Willis in the Severna Park Dunkin' Donuts, some customers have been subjecting store employees to very sick jokes.

The store manager says people have been coming in asking for "bloody doughnuts." And on several occasions, customers have left pens as tips -- a blatant reference to the fact that Mr. Willis was inexplicably gunned down when he refused to give his assailant the inexpensive pen he was carrying.

What is wrong with these people? How could anyone be so thoughtless as to think the Dunkin' Donuts employees would find this funny?

Two weeks after it occurred, this tragedy remains painfully fresh in the minds of area residents, especially those who were closest to it. That includes the people employed at the donut shop. Even those who were not there when Mr. Willis was shot must be shaken, as anyone would be if random, deadly violence struck some part of their regular workaday lives. They are in no frame of mind to laugh about it. There is such a thing as gallows humor. For police officers and others who deal with life's darker side, it can be a means of keeping sane. But there's no such motive behind the pranks at the doughnut shop -- just insensitivity and tastelessness.

SPEAKING OF CRIME and Severna Park: Many people have also found it tempting to chuckle at the recent "presidential" robberies, in which two people wearing Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan masks have been holding up area restaurants and, yesterday, an Arnold bank. The bank robbery was the first time "Nixon" and "Reagan" have been seen together.

Much as the masks put a humorous twist on crime, these robberies are no laughing matter. No one knows what kind of people we're dealing with here. And they carry guns.

Severna Park long has enjoyed a reputation as one of the more desirable places to live in Anne Arundel County. That remains true. But sadly, this is yet one more seemingly immune neighborhood where store owners and residents now best be careful about locking their doors.

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