Fear Stalks Paths of Quiet Columbia

COMMENT

August 14, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

Alex Baglione and his two friends, all 14 years old, walked the pathway to their nearby neighborhood pool in Columbia together.

It was broad daylight a week ago yesterday and there was nothing initially ominous or foreboding about the situation.

As far as safety was concerned, they had done everything right.

We've all heard the drill: Don't travel the paths alone. Don't go at night.

They had followed the drill.

Despite their precautions, Alex and his friends were accosted by a group of 10 to 15 youths, 15 to 16 years old, one of whom used what appeared to be a handgun to strike Alex several times in the face.

Alex suffered a fractured jaw, which was wired shut last week. One of his friends was also punched in the face but wasn't hurt seriously. Their other companion, a girl, was not harmed.

Police say they have several suspects in the case and arrests will be made soon.

That should be the end of the matter, but it isn't.

The Bagliones, on the advice of police, are considering whether to transfer Alex to another high school this fall to avoid retaliation by the teen-agers involved, some of whom attend the same school.

It will be Alex's freshman year. It is their neighborhood school, the one his older brother attends and the one they feel most comfortable with.

But they are thinking about other options.

I can't blame them. I would be seriously considering the same thing.

Of course, I would be furious that something like this had happened to my child. But I would be just as determined to see that it never happened again. And if that meant transferring to another school, so be it.

The truth is, I would have to think long and hard about filing charges at all. It is that serious a matter.

I might run away. The Bagliones have decided to stand their ground.

They are filing charges and they want the assailants, particularly the ringleader, apprehended. They attended a police lineup.

As members of the same community, they deserve our admiration and support.

To me, there are some deeply troubling things about this case that need to be addressed and it requires the kind of clarity and courage the Bagliones appear to possess.

There is, first and foremost, the element of gang-like activity.

A group of idle youngsters decides to intimidate those who are younger and outnumbered.

One of them appears to have a gun. He is believed to be an outsider. Someone who used to live in Columbia, but no longer does. He's been spotted several times at local convenience stores and the village center, "hanging out." He is believed to have been involved in other assaults.

The altercation a week ago begins with members of the gang attempting to stop and talk to the girl. They ask one of the boys with her what he would do if they tried to rape her.

The three youths try to walk away but they are stopped and beaten until a passer-by, a woman pushing a stroller, comes upon the scene, giving the victims a chance to flee.

The gang mentality, led by an outsider, intent on getting the attention of a girl: We have heard all these things before.

Our fear, of course, is that urban problems are being visited upon our community. Our instinct is to recoil.

But, of course, we can't recoil because that would only encourage what we fear the most.

"We came here, not because it was an ideal city with no crime," said John Baglione, Alex's father. "We came here for the open space, the accessibility of the bike paths. Because of the idea that we could walk to our neighborhood pool without worry."

I think he speaks for most of us. We all came here with the same hope.

But crime, the breakdown of the family, whatever it is that would possess a group of youths to act like a pack of marauding jackals is threatening to rob us of our hope.

"You can only take so much," said John Baglione. "Then you feel like you should take something back."

And so, if you're the Bagliones, you stand your ground. You stand for something principled and you take your community back.

Thank you and good luck.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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