Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay was awakened by a page at 3:30 a.m. July 26, notifying him of the county's latest homicide.
As he scrolled down the text message on his two-way pager, he thought: "Please don't let it be in Oakland Mills," the chief told residents during a recent gathering.
But Terrence Armstead was found shot in the 9600 block of Basket Ring Road, which is in the heart of Oakland Mills and a few hundred feet from the village center. Armstead was the third homicide near the village center in the past 12 months.
The incident had a profound effect on local leaders, many of whom have resisted the idea that the area around Oakland Mills Village Center has more crime than other neighborhoods. After the latest killing, many leaders have changed their tune.
"We do recognize there is a problem here," said Barbara Russell, a Columbia Council member who represents Oakland Mills.
A Sun analysis of police data shows that the area around the village center had one of the highest incidences of crime in the county last year.
There were 348 crimes in 11 major categories - ranging from disorderly conduct to homicide - around the village center, according to data provided by police.
That accounted for nearly 3 percent of the county's total crimes last year in those categories, ranking it third among the Police Department's nearly 100 "statistical reporting areas."
Police declined to comment on the Sun's figures because they have not analyzed their statistics.
But the Sun analysis shows that the same neighborhood around the village center had the highest number of homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in the county last year. It had 37 such crimes in that period.
The neighborhood with the second-highest number of violent crimes was a Long Reach area of comparable size. It had 22 such crimes.
The village center area reported two homicides and seven rapes, both figures leading the county. But police point out that most of the homicides that have occurred there are domestic violence cases and not random killings.
Tavon Donya Sands is scheduled to stand trial, beginning tomorrow, in Howard Circuit Court in one of those homicides, the fatal shooting in January last year of 23-year-old DeShawn Anthony Wallace. Wallace was shot during what police describe as a botched robbery attempt.
Arrest in killing
Most recently, police arrested a Prince George's County man and charged him in the killing of Oakland Mills resident Shameka Fludd, the mother of his unborn child.
Fludd was found shot in May in her apartment in the 5800 block of Stevens Forest Road. Her home was less than a mile from Armstead's residence.
No arrests have been made in Armstead's killing.
It is difficult to compare last year's data with that of earlier years because police kept track of calls for service before 2002, not crimes.
Many residents say the statistics do not paint a complete picture. Some say they see drug dealers or youths loitering and drinking alcohol.
"We live in a ghetto with a nice landscape," said Brian Noonan, who lives in the Shadow Oaks Condominiums behind the village center.
Noonan said he is considering moving because "I'm just fed up with it."
Area leaders are quick to point out that they believe the vast majority of Oakland Mills residents are law-abiding and feel safe in their neighborhoods.
The incidence of crime in Oakland Mills also pales in comparison to more urban areas in Baltimore or Washington.
"The majority of Oakland Mills is untouched by crime," said David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board.
Nobody is sure why the area around the village center has so much crime. But many say that its proliferation of apartments and bike paths is the main culprit.
"You have a high concentration of subsidized housing in the area ... that probably impacts the viability of the shopping center and the village center," said David A. Rakes, a Democrat who represents the area.
Several large apartment complexes are in the area and 98 subsidized housing units are in the Stevens Forest Apartments, according to the county Department of Housing.
Police have begun extra patrols on the bike paths and started a list of people who are banned from the area, said Maj. William McMahon.
And since the latest homicide, McMahon said, police have "doubled those efforts." He conceded that police would not be able to continue the extra effort indefinitely. "You will see it until this case is resolved," he said.
In light of Armstead's killing, Livesay questioned whether those efforts were sufficient. "I'm disappointed that perhaps we didn't do enough," he said recently.
The department has satellite offices in Harper's Choice, Long Reach and North Laurel, where officers work full time and are community liaisons.
Oakland Mills leaders hope a station there will reduce crime and ease worries.
"A substation will have a calming effect. It can't help but reassure people," said Hatch, of the village board.