Man ambushes wife as she walks to hearing on abuse She sought court help after his death threat

June 26, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Eric Siegel | Peter Hermann and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF Contributing writer Alex Gordon assisted with this article.

Luis Romero threatened to kill his wife a week ago after she moved out of their Northeast Baltimore apartment, vowing she would not live another day.

Alarmed, Rhonda Romero turned to the courts for help. Yesterday morning, 15 minutes before she was to have seen a judge, she was dead -- shot in the head, police said, by her husband, one block from the courthouse on the steps of the War Memorial Building.

He then put the gun to his head and took his own life.

The gunfire occurred about 9: 15 a.m. as hundreds of people were on their way to work or to do business in nearby government offices. Dozens witnessed the double shooting on North Gay Street across the plaza from City Hall.

One man watched the shooting from his second-floor office as he chatted with a friend on the telephone; another witness was heading home on a city bus when he heard the shots and saw the woman tumble to the ground.

Police officers emptied out of a nearby station house and workers spilled from their offices to watch as investigators stood over the bodies sprawled on the white steps of the building, dedicated in 1925 as a monument to World War I veterans.

"I was hoping they were making a movie," said 1st District Councilwoman Lois Garey, who saw the ambulances and police cruisers pull up as she walked to her City Hall office.

But then she realized the scene was real. "I said, 'Oh, my God, there's bodies on the steps of the War Memorial Building.' This can happen anywhere," she said. "But this doesn't help the perception that Baltimore City isn't safe."

On the day she was threatened, Rhonda Romero, 27, of Carney filed a domestic-abuse complaint against her husband. A temporary restraining order was issued, preventing Luis Romero, 28, of the 4000 block of White Ave. from going near her.

Mrs. Romero wrote in her complaint that her husband called her at work June 17 and that she told him she had "left the apartment and that he needed to go home and take care of his kids.

"At that point, Mr. Romero told me to be in the house by that night. I refused. Then he threatened me and told me I would not live past 6/18/96. This is not the first time he has threatened my life."

The court hearing on the case was scheduled for 9: 30 a.m. yesterday. Rhonda Romero apparently was walking alone to the courthouse at 501 E. Fayette St. when she was confronted by her husband at the War Memorial.

"He appeared out of nowhere," said Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a city police spokeswoman. She said some witnesses reported that the two argued; others said no words were exchanged. Witnesses said Luis Romero shot his wife in the head -- some said up to three times -- and then shot himself. Police recovered a .357 Magnum revolver.

"It was click, click, click. She fell. Then he put the trigger to his head," said Kevin Amado, employee assistance coordinator for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, who was looking out his office window on the second floor of the Charles R. Benton Jr. Building.

John Cogdell was riding by on a city bus. "I just looked out the window and I saw the shots," he said. "I saw the woman fall and then he shot himself. Man, it startled me. I can't even describe it. Blood shot everywhere."

The two fell next to each other. The gun landed near the man's feet. Two witnesses said the woman's mouth moved as she lay on the ground. She was pronounced dead by the first paramedics to reach the scene.

Details about Luis Romero's children could not be learned.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who held an early meeting of department heads and other officials at the American Visionary Arts Museum in South Baltimore, entered City Hall about 10 minutes before the shootings and immediately met with city schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

"It's a terrible tragedy -- one that once again underscores the tragic nature of domestic violence," the mayor said through his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.

The shootings were the talk of City Hall and left many onlookers and city workers unnerved. The first call to police reported shots fired near the memorial; then officers found the two bodies and initially thought a sniper might be on the roof.

"It's scary when you walk by here every day," said Sharon Harlan, who works on the sixth floor of the Benton Building.

"I looked at this like, 'How could this happen?' " said Gino White, 14, who heard the shots while riding on the No. 8 bus. "I've never seen anything like this in my life. I've only seen stuff like this on TV."

A few hours later, after a lone worker mopped the War Memorial steps, there was no sign of the early morning commotion: The steps gleamed in the afternoon sunlight; a dozen or so chess players were engrossed in their games on the plaza and passers-by walked languidly in the heat.

Norris Walbert, executive director of the War Memorial Commission, said the building -- which houses offices of local veterans groups and is used for a variety of civic events -- never closed.

"We didn't pay any attention to it," Walbert said. "We went out and looked and that's it."

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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