Fear lingers weeks after girl's rape at library Security report hasn't been released

April 28, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The rape of a 15-year-old girl abducted with her sister while waiting for a ride outside the Howard County library has Miriam Rogers listening to traffic reports.

The Oakland Mills mother of three diligently makes road checks before she leaves her house to pick up her 9-year-old daughter from school. That way, she says, she is sure she won't be late.

"Now I feel that I need to be more on time for my daughters when things close," she said.

The March 20 rape unfolded in circumstances that most parents can identify with -- being a little late because of traffic or a long grocery line.

And more than a month later, the rape lingers in parents' minds, heightening their concerns about their safety and that of their children.

Some women are asking about self-defense classes, and a local Jewish center has scheduled a seminar tonight on how to protect children from sexual abuse. A PTA leader urged after-school self-defense classes, but lost her bid because of liability issues.

Local police completed a security survey of the library about 10 days ago but police, library and county officials -- including Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker -- refuse to reveal the report's contents.

Officials say changes will be implemented within the next few weeks, but they will not say what they are. The secrecy has prompted some criticism.

"That's something that should not be hidden," Mrs. Rogers said, adding that knowing more about the security situation would help her make better decisions about her children. "I think it's something the community should know."

Wanda Hurt, chairwoman of the county's PTA council safety committee and newly elected member of the Columbia Council, said people do not fear the library, but knowing some precautions were being taken could soothe rattled nerves.

"It's part of this county's logic, 'If you don't know about it, you can't be concerned,' " she said.

On March 20, police say, a man approached the sisters, who were sitting on a bench outside the library after it closed at 9 p.m., and offered them a ride. When the two refused, the man told them he had a gun and forced them into the woods just behind the building.

He made both undress and raped the older girl, then told them to run or he would shoot, police say. The two victims ran to Toby's Dinner Theatre, where they were found by cast members in the middle of a production, according to police.

Five days later, police charged Timothy Chase, a former Howard County General Hospital janitor, after receiving a tip from one of his family members. The 28-year-old, who has spent nearly a decade in jail for armed robbery and selling cocaine, is being held without bond.

Security controversy

It was the seventh of eight rapes reported this year in Howard County, which saw 32 rapes or attempted rapes last year. But this attack struck a nerve with residents because it occurred in an area most people view as safe: the library.

After the rape, library officials said they would implement any changes recommended by police. But Wednesday, library board trustees president Salvador Waller said he had not read the security report -- which police said was given to the library administration a week before.

"I understand what [parents] are saying, but the whole implication means there is something wrong with the library," Mr. Waller said. He called the rape "a community problem, not a library problem."

Other steps

And across the community, some people are taking steps to prevent similar crimes. Some self-defense schools say they have fielded more inquiries and seen the numbers of women enrolling for classes rise in the past month.

At Chimar Academy of Tang Soo Do in Columbia, owner Mark Beall said he received 30 phone calls about his self-defense class since the rape. Twelve women are on a waiting list for his eight-week course.

Nancy Thompson, general manager of Will Maier's United Martial Arts School in Columbia said she usually sees about two women a month come in. This month, about 20 women in their 20s and 30s showed up.

"Most of the time when women come in, it's for their children," Ms. Thompson said. In this group, "most of them said, 'I want to learn to defend myself because there is so much violence, especially here in Columbia.' "

Jenny Jacques said she wishes her 11-year-old daughter would sign up for a self-defense class, but she refuses. "The girls don't think it's cool," the Clarksville woman said. "They don't understand what's out there."

Mrs. Jacques said the schools should offer self-defense classes, so they could be inexpensive and readily accessible.

Mrs. Hurt, the PTA leader, agrees. She suggested starting after-school defense classes last week at a county PTA meeting, but liability issues grounded the plan. Instead, Mrs. Hurt said she plans to arrange classes for the Owen Brown schools where people lecture about self-defense.

"Rapists like vulnerable victims because it's an act of power," she said. "They are not going to go after someone who is going to kick the you-know-what out of them."

Philosophical differences

Still, implementing a self-defense program may not be totally popular. As with sex issues, parents sometimes walk a fine line in how much they want to tell or teach their children, educators say.

Some parents said a child being attacked by an adult would have no chance regardless of the amount of self-defense training they had. But even if parents don't like the idea of teaching their children to fight, black-belt karate instructor Sara Rivka-Ernstoff said they have a moral obligation to teach them self-defense skills.

Said Mrs. Rivka-Ernstoff, who is offering a seminar for parents at 7 p.m. today at the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education, "It's better for the kids to be fearful than to have something happen to them."

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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