Cashier shot at Giant in Rotunda Dozens of shoppers dive for cover during attempted robbery

March 29, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Richard Irwin | Peter Hermann and Richard Irwin,SUN STAFF

A cashier at the Giant food store in the Rotunda shopping center in North Baltimore was shot and seriously wounded last night during a brazen robbery attempt that sent frightened customers diving for cover, city police said.

At least 100 people were shopping in the store when three men tried to rob it about 7: 45 p.m., police said.

Witnesses said an armed man pushed his way to the front of a checkout line and ordered a cashier to open her cash drawer. They said that when the cashier, apparently confused, backed away from the register without opening it, the gunman fired two to four shots.

A bullet struck cashier Mary Haines, 30, in the shoulder and passed through her neck, police said. She was in serious condition last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Elizabeth Duklewski, 72, said she watched as the man pulled a gun and shouted for the teller to open the cash drawer. "He said, 'Open up! Open up!' She didn't appear to understand. He then shot her," Ms. Duklewski said.

Ms. Duklewski, who had gone to the Giant to buy coffee filters, said the gunman pushed by other customers in Ms. Haines' checkout line. "I thought he needed some change in a hurry," she said.

The three men were seen leaving the store.

Near the store a few minutes after the shooting, police stopped a man who was identified as one of the holdup men by at least one store employee. Police said the man was being questioned last night at police headquarters.

The store, in the 700 block of W. 41st St. in Hampden, closed for the night as police searched for evidence. Through the front doors, blood could be seen near a checkout stand. Dazed customers, many pushing carts filled with groceries, slowly left the store after being questioned by detectives.

"I knew they were shooting," said John Dandurski, one of the customers. "I heard a girl yell, 'Help me, help me!' and then the store went quiet."

A Giant employee, who didn't want her name used, said Ms. Haines had relieved her at the cash register moments before the shooting.

She said the gunman kept shouting, "'Open the till, open the till!' [Ms. Haines] didn't understand, and he started shooting. I heard boom, boom."

The employee said she ran to a meat room in the back of the store and hid until police arrived.

"I hit the floor," said customer Walter Brown. He said he heard the shots while at the delicatessen counter in the rear of the store.

He said he shops at the Rotunda, a few blocks south of Roland Park, because it is in a safe part of the city. Now, he said, "shootings are happening everywhere."

Police Sgt. Richard Stuhmer of the Northern District, who said he was one of the first officers to arrive at the store, described the scene inside as "absolute panic. We immediately closed the door and cordoned off the store."

The confusion prompted diverging stories from witnesses and other customers. Many said that more than one person was wounded.

People who tried to get into the store after the shooting were shocked when they learned why it was closed for the night. Most shook their heads in disbelief.

Theresa Green said that when the shots were fired, "everybody dropped to the ground like they should have. Then somebody hollered, 'Get a towel, she's bleeding!' "

Like many other customers, Ms. Green had stopped at the store for a few last-minute items. "I only wanted to buy some milk," she said.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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