Grieving town seeks normality Attention subsides in Stevensville after deaths of two infants

'Shaken to the core'

Residents await word on how babies died

May 16, 1998|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

STEVENSVILLE -- The television microwave trucks no longer blocked driveways and crushed lawns yesterday. The camera crews and photographers and reporters had left the one-block cul-de-sac where two babies died in a home day care center Wednesday.

Relieved of the glare of attention, residents of Stevensville tried to return to a quiet existence in a small Kent Island town usually ignored by the thousands of motorists who roar by on U.S. 50 every day.

A few more than usual might turn off today to attend Kent Island Days, a festival in its 23rd year.

The community lies in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, bounded by the Chester River and the clogged highway. Residents say it offers a small-town atmosphere that would be the envy of their metropolitan neighbors who know Stevensville only for its tragedy.

"This is a very close community here," said Karen Oertel, whose family goes back seven generations in Queen Anne's County. "There are these terrible events anywhere in the world, and you ** have to wonder why. Everyone is shaken to the core. The whole community is grieving."

In the Cloverfields neighborhood where the two 5-month-old boys died, residents waited for some explanation, some word from police or the state medical examiner's office, some reason that Matthew Willis Harrison and Ian Walden Denny, unrelated and seemingly healthy babies, went into cardiac arrest about the same time in the home of day care provider Tracey Russum.

Investigators are investigating whether peaches fed to the boys might have been tainted. Autopsies proved inconclusive, and medical examiners say they will conduct further tests, including an analysis of the food given to the children, tissue studies and a toxicologic analysis of body fluids to determine the presence of drugs or poisons.

Jessica George, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said results are not expected until next week. Toxicology tests could take a week or two to complete, she said.

Early yesterday, Tamara Parreco and Susan Lundstrom, who are among the newcomers who have contributed to a 15 percent increase in the county's population in the past seven years, watched as their four children, ages 1 to 6, romped on the Cloverfields playground about two blocks from the home where the infants died.

"This is something that affects us all, because in a small place like this you run into everybody all the time," said Parreco. "It's the reason we moved here, but this really hits home if you have children of your own."

Like many who have arrived in Queen Anne's County in recent years, both women came for less-expensive housing and good schools.

With husbands who commute to jobs in Annapolis and Silver Spring, they are not daunted by the relentless traffic on U.S. 50. Overpasses in Stevensville and nearby Chester provide easy access to strip shopping centers that have sprung up in recent years.

"Basically, we don't really mind 50," said Lundstrom. "Sometimes you want to avoid it on a Sunday in the summer, but it's not really an issue."

Anger at news media

In the Kent Island Shopping Center, grocery clerk Linda Dicus, who recently fled Kent Island's congestion for rural northern Queen Anne's County, said many of her customers were angry at this week's news media attention.

"We're kind of feel like a different world over here sometimes," Dicus said. "You never hear a thing about the Shore until there's something tragic."

Shopkeepers in Stevensville's historic district were busy yesterday preparing for the unincorporated town's annual festival.

The intersection of Love Point Road, East Main Street and Cockey Lane, which was once the commercial center, has been revitalized by the arrival of antique shops, galleries and artisans. A new neighborhood bakery sits across from a cooperative where nine artists share studio and gallery space.

"The artists here have become a very close community," said Veronica Stewart, who owns Love Point Studios with partner and fellow Annapolis resident Susan Strok. "We are committed to this town for the long haul."

Generations of Dennys

Up the street, in a converted Methodist church he bought in 1959, Bill Denny said commitment has kept nine generations of his family on Kent Island.

Denny, the great-uncle of one of the infants who died, said the bay-front farmhouse where family members gathered this week to grieve dates to before the Civil War.

Denny has a fondness for the renovated church where he and his wife, Janet, opened an antiques and crafts store 1 1/2 years ago. A 20-year member of the town's heritage committee, Denny said he was compelled to refurbish the old church because the project was "in my genes."

His great-grandfather donated a pane of stained glass that bears the family name.

"We all have these kinds of tragedies, and people have to know the news," Denny said. "But they should realize there is another side of life here that is not so heartbreaking."

Funerals for both children are today.

Matthew Harrison funeral

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