Gunfire shatters the lives of strangers

Case of domestic violence reaches out to destroy neighbors, passers-by

March 22, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A 2-year-old boy will have a steel plate in his jaw for the rest of his life.

An infant girl will grow up without knowing her mother.

One 12-year-old boy will live with the memory of watching his mother and father shot to death, another with memories of being kidnapped by a shotgun-wielding stranger.

Yesterday -- just hours before accused killer Joseph C. Palczynski was shot dead by police at the end of a 97-hour hostage standoff -- family members of those caught up in Palczynski's deadly shooting spree two weeks ago were trying to contain their anger against the judicial system.

Two parents of people shot during an attempted carjacking March 8 said Palczynski's history of mental illness and violence should have persuaded the courts not to release him on probation after a 1995 charge of assault.

Palczynski, 31, an unemployed electrical worker from Bowleys Quarters, is believed to have fatally shot a Baltimore County couple, their neighbor and a passer-by during a violent attempt to kidnap his former girlfriend.

Speaking before last night's events unfolded, Lisa Marie Sims said, "When they catch him, they'd better put him 10 feet under ground. Because if they don't, I will."

The 27-year-old hairstylist from Essex is the mother of a 2-year-old boy who was shot in the face during the rampage.

Her son, Gregory Sims, underwent surgery Monday at Johns Hopkins Hospital to insert a steel plate in his jaw, which was shattered by a bullet.

The boy was recovering at home yesterday with a hole in his cheek and stitches from his ear to his throat.

"My son will have these scars on his face for the rest of his days," said Sims. "The judge should never have let [Palczynski] out of jail in the first place."

Sims recalled that she was driving in the 6800 block of Ebenezer Road on March 8, taking her son from her sister's home in Chase back to his home in Essex, when a gunman walked up to her window and fired several shots into her car.

Authorities suspect that Palczynski was trying to hijack a vehicle as he fled from a triple shooting in Bowleys Quarters, where George Shenk, Gloria Jean Shenk and David Myers were killed as they tried to keep Palczynski away from his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead.

Sims didn't know any of those people. All she knew was that a man walked up to the side of her car -- within a few feet of her head -- and fired shots that nearly deafened her and shattered her front and side windows.

'One bang,' then deaf

"I only heard one bang, and after that I went deaf," Sims said during a telephone interview yesterday from her home. "He was so close to me, I could see the smoke from his gun."

Sims stepped on the gas and sped to the house of an acquaintance nearby, screaming as she drove, "Gregory, are you OK?" Because glass was everywhere, she didn't know her infant son had been shot in the face.

When she climbed out of her car to call police, she screamed at seeing her son covered in blood and glass splinters.

In addition to his surgery, Gregory will also undergo psychological counseling at the Mount Washington Pediatrics Hospital.

Since the shooting, his mother, a 1991 graduate of Kenwood High School who is taking classes to be a cosmetologist, had been watching the Palczynski standoff with police on television as he held three people hostage.

She said she doesn't know how to explain it to her son.

"He was so lovable, sweet and nice before the injury. Now he's always crying.

"All he knows is that the nasty man gave him a boo-boo. He doesn't know he got S-H-O-T," Sims said, trying to shield her nearby son from the word.

Another child damaged by the shooting spree is Lydia McDonel, 1, the daughter of Jennifer Lynn McDonel, a 37-year-old secretary who was shot to death during another suspected carjacking attempt March 8.

The elder McDonel and her husband, Thomas, 41, were driving on Ebenezer Road near Harewood Road on the way to a prayer service when a gunman fired into their car.

Leaving daughter 'a miracle'

It's a miracle that the couple broke their pattern and left their infant daughter at home in Essex that night, said Jennifer McDonel's mother, Sarah Francis, 70. If the baby had been in the car, she might have died beside her mother, Francis said.

"There is no way that the authorities should have let this man go, given his past record," said Francis.

Other children traumatized by the rampage include the 12-year-old son of the Shenks, who watched as his parents were shot to death when they tried to protect Palczynski's ex-girlfriend in their apartment.

Anna M. Etter, an 81-year-old retired beautician who was handcuffed to her bed as the gunman stole her car from her Hilltop Road home, said her conversation with the accused killer didn't give her good feelings about the potential outcome of the standoff.

"He asked me, `Do you know how many people I've killed?' and I said, `Three?' because I'd been watching on television," Etter said.

"And he said, `No, now it's four,' " Etter said, referring to the death of Jennifer McDonel, which had not yet been broadcast.

"I really believe all these lives would have been saved if the courts had kept him in prison," said Etter.

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