Some neighbors are kept in, others kept out in Dundalk

Hostage situation disrupts lives of residents in tiny Berkshire neighborhood

Standoff In Dundalk

March 19, 2000|By Diana K. Sugg | Diana K. Sugg,SUN STAFF

They never thought he would come to their neighborhood. Even though Joseph C. Palczynski had a knack for showing up anywhere. Even though relatives of the former girlfriend he had pursued, and whom he has been accused of killing people over, lived right down the street.

So Friday night, Albert Green went out for dinner. Charlie Ryan stopped in the Vietnam Veterans Association to toast St. Patrick's Day. And more than 100 kids descended on nearby Holabird Middle School to enjoy a night of roller skating and dancing, after being pent up for nearly two weeks by fear of Palczynski.

But about 9 p.m., with a series of gunshots on Lange Street, everything changed for Berkshire, a small neighborhood of apartments and rowhouses in the Dundalk area.

"Oh, my God, he's in my neighborhood now," said Green, 67, a retired carpenter.

One by one, nearby residents made the same discovery.

George Burris and his girlfriend were watching a movie when they heard helicopters flying above his house Friday night. Looking out the window, he spotted a police car. "Before you knew it, boom, there was about a dozen or so," said Burris.

Moments later, a line of police officers ran down the alley next to the house. As officers knocked on doors, as neighbor called neighbor, the word started to spread: Pull down your shades and turn out your lights.

The man who had allegedly killed four people, the man who had eluded police, the man they thought would show up about five miles away in Middle River, was in Berkshire. And now they were in lockdown. No one could come in. No one could go out.

Tuned to the news

Inside their homes, residents turned on the television news. Some kept sentry by their windows, watching huge searchlights from the helicopters flying across their little neighborhood.

Some felt as if they had been instantly transported into a fugitive movie. Eugene Gross, 77, paced the floor, opening and closing the front door, and locking it what seemed like a million times to his daughter.

"He was driving me crazy," said Ginny Pressell, 51, who moved in with her elderly parents so she could take care of them. "He's wore himself to a frazzle."

Tori Kucz, 23, had arrived home late from work with a migraine, wanting to do nothing but lie down. But the chopper blades were roaring overhead, her phone was ringing with worried relatives. And a murder suspect was around the corner.

"Just knowing that he was so close," Kucz said, "it's really hard to sleep."

But Debbie Lapinski was thanking God.

As the president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at nearby Holabird Middle School, she had organized the first night-time student activity in weeks. More than 100 children, about a third of whom are from Berkshire, spent the evening at the school. All had left 30 minutes before the shooting began.

"I just can't imagine what might have happened," Lapinski said, noting that one of the siblings of Palczynski's former girlfriend attends the school. "It makes you wonder, `Did we do right by doing it?' But the kids have got to have something. We had figured we were far enough away."

Lost argument

Charlie Ryan, 55, saw the news on television and tried to get home. But the police wouldn't let him in. He argued with them.

"If I'm willing to take the risk to go to my house, what right do they have to keep me from it? He's the criminal," Ryan said, referring to Palczynski. Eventually, like about 45 others, he drove to nearby Berkshire Elementary School, where the Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter.

But he didn't want to sleep on a cot. So he pushed back the seat in his black Acura and tried to bunk down for the night in the school parking lot.

Others stayed with family and friends, including Albert Green. A week ago, when Palczynski was on the run in Bowleys Quarters, Green's son spent the night at Green's house. Now, the situation was reversed. Father stayed with son Friday night. (Green was one of the few residents allowed to return home yesterday.)

Eventually, the helicopters flew away. Everything grew very quiet. But the neighborhood was dotted with police cars, a SWAT truck, officers on guard.

"It was kind of like real eerie," said Pressell. "It's really strange to look out into my neighborhood and not see any cars go by."

By 3 a.m., many finally went to bed, mothers climbing in alongside their children, holding them, telling them they were safe, and trying to believe it themselves. Hoping it would be over when they woke up.

It wasn't.

Yesterday morning, Eugene Gross, a heart patient, grew so upset that he needed to take a nitroglycerin pill. Theresa Waugh, 50, couldn't get to her job cooking meals at a nearby nursing home. And one elderly man with a sick wife needed groceries. He was one of the few who managed to sneak out and get to the store.

But when he returned, he was stopped at the barricade, so a neighbor let him store the refrigerated goods in his house. Then, to keep the man out of plain view, police escorted him behind the rowhouses.

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