Bowleys Quarters residents feel alone, neglected in wake of Palczynski rampage

Some say the first victims have been forgotten

April 23, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

There are few reminders left of the violence that took place more than a month ago in the small waterside community of Bowleys Quarters.

At the brick apartment complex where police say Joseph C. Palczynski gunned down three people, dried petals from a dozen red roses left in memory of one of the victims have blown away. The yellow police tape was torn down long ago.

No crowds of mourners came. No teddy bears or condolence cards were propped against a wall. It was, residents say, as if Bowleys Quarters and the three people killed there were forgotten in the chaos that later enveloped a Dundalk neighborhood 10 miles away.

"They said people in Dundalk were scared," said Theresa Conroy, who cradled her fiance, David Meyers, in her arms as he died the night of March 7. "They said people in Dundalk lost personal belongings and food during the standoff.

"Hey -- what about the people here? There are people in Bowleys Quarters who are scared and terrified and hurting because they had people killed in their back yard. I am frustrated. I am angry. I sit here every day and cry."

In the next couple of weeks, officers from the Baltimore County Police Department's Essex precinct plan to hold a meeting with the community to let traumatized residents talk about the ordeal and to see whether anyone needs counseling. A fund-raiser is also being planned for the Bowleys Quarters families who lost loved ones.

But Conroy wants to know why it took this long for people to notice their grief.

Stories abound in the aftermath of Palczynski's four-day standoff with police in Dundalk.

It is common knowledge that he held three people hostage inside a Lange Street apartment while he demanded to speak to his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead. That hostage Lynn Whitehead, Tracy's mother, drugged him and made her escape. And that SWAT team officers stormed the apartment and shot Palczynski 27 times.

What isn't known is that in Bowleys Quarters, 35-year-old Conroy walks around the corner of her building every night, lies down on a patch of grass not far from the apartment where the bloodshed began and weeps.

No one knows that it was three weeks before Mike Reba could get his 7- and 10-year-old boys to sleep through the night again.

Or that Dave Eddy will never be able to forget the piercing screams and gunshot blasts that came from the apartment below him.

"Something like that never leaves you," said Eddy, 28.

It began about 8: 30 p.m. March 7 in Apartment 507B in the Town & Country Bowleys Quarters Apartments, the home of Gloria Jean and George Shenk.

That night, as they were watching "Walker, Texas Ranger" with 12-year-old son Nathan, a 3-year-old niece and guest Tracy Whitehead, Palczynski walked in through an unlocked sliding glass door carrying an automatic rifle.

"Tracy, get up, you're going," he said, before shooting Gloria Shenk twice and George Shenk three times, court documents say.

The Shenks died in front of the children. She was 50. He was 49.

In an apartment facing the Shenks' patio, Conroy and Meyers jumped up from the dinner table. Outside, they saw a man dragging a woman across the field.

Meyers, 42, ran out the door. By the time Conroy put on her shoes and followed, two more shots were fired.

"You can't shoot everybody in your way," she heard a woman scream.

"I'll kill them all," the man screamed back.

Meyers was lying around the corner of the building, bleeding from his chest. "I'm dying, Ter," he moaned.

Leaning back against her chest, his legs splayed out in front of him, Meyers turned his head to Conroy, took his last breath and said, "Tell Mom and Dad I love them."

Palczynski surfaced the next night on a road not far away. While attempting to hijack a car, police said, he fired shots that killed Jennifer Lynn McDonel as she was driving to a prayer service and wounded 2-year-old Gregory Sims, who was riding in the back seat of his mother's car.

Tracy Whitehead escaped that night, but for many residents in eastern Baltimore County, Palczynski's disappearance marked the start of nearly two weeks of living in fear. Each time a dog barked, a car backfired or a tree branch rustled, it took on a new meaning.

"It was hell," said Karen Bailey, who moved near the Shenks a short time before the shootings. "We were so scared."

Palczynski briefly surfaced again March 10, then just as quickly disappeared.

"My boys were petrified," said Reba, 34, who lives next door to Conroy. "They were friends with the Shenk kids. Their friends' parents got blown away. They wouldn't even take the trash to the Dumpster while he was on the run."

When Palczynski turned up again, it was in Dundalk.

As attention focused on the Dundalk standoff, radio talk shows criticized police conduct and Lange Street residents spoke out about their frustration at being held captive, Bowleys Quarters faded into the background.

Gloria and George Shenk, David Meyers and Jennifer McDonel became small characters in a drama that continued even after Palczynski's death. Dundalk residents received free grief counseling. Residents threw themselves a block party, and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger appeared in a show of support. They were compensated for flat tires, broken windows and furniture damaged during the siege.

Offers poured in to help Dundalk put itself back together.

But no such offers were received in the area where the shooting started.

"Who is helping put Bowleys Quarters back together?" asked 73-year-old Sandra H. Thomas, a Rosedale resident who is setting up a fund-raiser for the Shenks, Conroy and the McDonels.

"It's not fair," Thomas says said. "They were left out. Nobody got killed in Dundalk but Palczynski. These are the people who really need psychological help. These are the people who really need our help. It's not too late."

Pub Date: 4/23/00

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