Friends rise to brothers' defense

Men who confronted intruders are known for devotion to work

April 01, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Hours after police say he shot three burglary suspects inside his concrete plant, Dominic "Tony" Geckle was calling his customers, assuring them that it was business as usual at Back River Supply Inc.

Baltimore County police had interviewed Geckle until dawn that day, but he had to continue doing what he did best: Work.

"He called me and was really down in the dumps, he was all shook up over the whole thing," said Michael O'Meara, the owner of O'Meara Construction Co. in Finksburg. "He just said he is going to do whatever he can to keep in business ... and for me not to worry unless something he cannot control happens."

That determination to preserve and protect the family business is what drove Tony Geckle, 31, and his brother, Matthew J. Geckle, 36, to spend the night in their business on March 18, according to friends and relatives.

The morning of the previous day, police say, Enrico L. Magliarella, 24, and Brandon M. Kruft, 20, broke into the business, in the 12200 block of Owings Mills Blvd., and stole power tools and a .22-caliber rifle.

The Geckles were distraught when they learned of the burglary later in the day. They paced around the warehouse, called police and fixed a door that had been broken during the burglary.

The brothers turned to their landlord, Larry Knight, for advice on how to protect the 10,000- square-foot warehouse.

"I said, `It's a big place,'" Knight said. "You can't [install] cameras."

The brothers then called a security company that evaluated the property, but were told it would be days before the building could be secured properly.

Before dawn on March 18, police say, Magliarella and Michael P. Walker, 22, broke into the warehouse again, while Kruft waited outside in a car.

Lock broken, no security

The Geckles filed a second police report. This time, however, they discovered that a broken lock could not be repaired and they were running out of options, Knight said.

"You can't call a security company and say, `I need three guards for tonight,' on Sunday afternoon," said Paul Geckle of Abingdon, the brothers' uncle.

The brothers, each armed with a shotgun and dressed in insulated camouflage clothing, decided to spend that night in the warehouse, family members and friends said.

"I am sure they never expected the people to come back again," said the Geckles' aunt, Frances Krannebitter. "I'm sure nobody in their right frame of mind would expect they would come a third time."

Matthew Geckle fell asleep on a couch on the second floor of the warehouse. Tony Geckle slept under a bench on the first floor, Knight said.

Intruders at 1 a.m.

About 1 a.m. March 19, police say, Magliarella returned to the unlit warehouse with two men, Justin Storto, 21, and Jonathan B. Steinbach, 24.

They entered through a side door at the rear of the warehouse, startling Tony Geckle, Knight and relatives said.

Family and friends said that Tony Geckle ordered the men to stop, but that the suspects kept advancing toward him. Geckle then fired his weapon, spraying the apparently unarmed suspects with shotgun pellets, police said.

Matthew Geckle woke up during the gunfire. He fumbled with his own weapon, accidentally pulling the trigger and sending a round into the ceiling, Knight said.

When the gunfire stopped, Steinbach, who owned a Baltimore tanning salon, was dead, and Magliarella and Storto were critically wounded.

The two men, along with the two other men police say were involved in the previous burglaries, were arrested and charged with the break-ins.

And the reserved Geckle brothers would be thrust into the spotlight of an unrelenting debate between those who say they are heroes and others who say they are cowards and ruthless vigilantes.

Leonard H. Shapiro, a lawyer who represents Storto, disputes the version of events presented to The Sun by friends and relatives of the Geckle brothers. (The brothers declined to comment.) He interviewed his client, who is out on bail, for the first time last week.

"As soon as the Geckles spoke, these guys took off running," Shapiro said, noting that Storto was shot in the back. "Picture yourself in a pitch-dark warehouse where you think no one is present and someone screams. Are you going to run toward them?"

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office is in charge of deciding which version of events is the truth. State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said her office is awaiting the results of an autopsy.

The prosecutor handling the case, Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst, has said she will likely ask a grand jury to decide if either brother should be charged.

Friends, business associates and relatives of the Geckles are frightened by the prospect that the men could be charged for the incident, which they believe was an act of self-defense.

They are also furious at people who are quick to judge the brothers' actions. Their supporters say that people must first understand the Geckles' lives and their love for their late father before they make judgments.

Family roots in Essex

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