`Like a hurricane'

Recovery: The people of Dundalk begin to get themselves together and return to a normal life.

March 23, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki and Michael Hill | Joe Nawrozki and Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

By yesterday morning, the police officers in battle gear were gone from Berkshire, the eastern Baltimore County enclave in the gray shadow of a sewage treatment plant and a century-old cemetery.

The TV news crews were still there, now allowed near the scene of the shooting, their lights and antennas dominating the sidewalks of Lange Street.

Soon, they will be gone, too.

But a community that came under the glare of the national spotlight during one of the longest hostage sieges in U.S. history will take time re-establishing its identity and returning to a more peaceful time when residents can again proudly discuss the beauty of their front lawns.

The pain will reach past Lange Street, where Joseph C. Palczynski held three hostages for four days.

"As far as the nation goes, Dundalk is where that murderer was," said Gene Golden, an eastern Baltimore County native who owns a sign shop in the 2100 block of Merritt Ave.

"But it was like a hurricane came through here," Golden said yesterday. "This community has another stigma. What went on here is on all our minds, the hairdresser, the liquor store owner. It affects your psyche.

"Although most of us were not in the kill zone, we all take it personally. We've all been injured."

Spending time on the floor

Gordon Tyler, 41, lives a few houses up and across the street from the scene of the deadly drama directed by Palczynski. Tyler shares a rowhouse with his 7-year-old son, Samuel.

"We spent most of the time on the floor," he said. "It is hard to keep a 7-year-old on the floor. But we could look out our window and see the blinds moving on that house and a gun barrel pointing out. That's unnerving."

Tyler said that after a burst of gunfire Saturday night, he could take no more.

Defying orders to stay put, he and his son headed out the back of their house and made it to police lines.

"I'm talking about it now because I've got to get it out," he said. "We've all got to get it out."

Even as children on bicycles bragged about how many gunshots they had heard or how many newscasts they had seen themselves on, rumors spread of the top dollar -- said to be $6,000 -- paid by a national television program for a home video of the end of the siege.

Meanwhile, two Baltimore County police officers went door to door, asking residents how they were doing, giving them the Red Cross counseling number.

By late yesterday, the area was something of a tourist attraction, a constant stream of cars clogging the narrow streets as visitors gawked, many snapping pictures of the brick-front building with the green door that was the site of the siege.

Many of the visitors paused to look at Raymond Eberwein's 1986 Ford Ranger pickup truck. Parked in the alley behind Lange Street, it received the brunt of one of Palczynski's bursts of gunfire and sported 18 bullet holes.

Eberwein said he wasn't sure when the truck was shot up.

"I was probably asleep," he said, explaining that police had awakened him Friday night, when Palczynski took the hostages, and told him to stay indoors. "I didn't get too nervous. Nothing keeps me from sleeping. And the police were great to us."

As he talked, Joe Byrd, 73, walked up the alley with several bulging plastic bags. "I collect aluminum cans," he said. "It gives me an excuse to get out walking."

Byrd lives on Lange Street across from the apartment of Lynn Whitehead, mother of Palczynski's estranged girlfriend. He said he was prepared for the siege because during 34 years at Bethlehem Steel he had learned to stockpile food for layoffs. And he had put his arsenal of a dozen guns by the window.

"If he had tried to come after me," Byrd said, "he would have died of lead poisoning."

Many seemed to enjoy yesterday's almost carnival-like atmosphere, but Dr. Ira Albert, a psychology professor for 20 years at the nearby Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore, said the community and beyond will be affected by the ordeal for days, weeks or months.

"The world got a distorted view of Dundalk, a place adversity has struck many times before," Albert said yesterday. "But everybody has been hit by this very stressful event -- the neighbors, the cops, reporters, teachers, everybody."

Albert said residents might suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including disruptions in sleeping and eating, irritability and possibly aggressive behavior.

"People who live here are bonded together and are strong," Albert said. "But they have been exposed to a disaster in their back yard.

"You might see a child or a housewife walk blocks out of the way to avoid the house where the hostages were held. People should get back into the situation, force themselves to go back there. Don't let those old places reinforce that fear."

Also deeply concerned about the emotional scars that could affect the children of Berkshire and other small enclaves of the east side is Jean Jung, a longtime Dundalk activist and member of the Baltimore County school board.

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