Respected teacher at St. Paul's was Towson mall shooting victim

Police seek public's help

school mourns his loss

February 20, 2005|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Veteran science teacher and administrator William Bassett left St. Paul's School in Brooklandville on Friday with the papers on his desk neatly stacked. His computer was running. and there was an unopened bag of green tea near his keyboard awaiting his return.

A few hours later, Bassett, 58, was found fatally shot on the fifth floor of a parking garage at the Towson Town Center shopping mall, police said yesterday.

Baltimore County police said they have no witnesses and don't know why someone would harm the Roland Park man, who had a wife and two adopted children and had taught at St. Paul's for more than 30 years.

"He never put anything away because he knew he would come back and pick up working in the spot he had left off. It's haunting to know he won't do that," said Kent Darrell, a mathematics teacher and a longtime colleague of Bassett's.

A mall employee called 911 after she found Bassett lying on the ground near an entrance to Nordstrom about 8 p.m. His car was parked nearby and it is unclear whether Bassett was entering or leaving the mall, said Officer Shawn Vinson, a police spokesman.

"We're asking for the public's help," Vinson said.

There have been at least two robberies at the mall in recent months, and a man was fatally stabbed in a different mall parking lot three years ago.

A spokesman for General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based company that acquired the mall last year, said yesterday that the company reviews its safety measures after incidents such as the Friday's shooting.

Company officials declined to discuss specifics of the mall's security measures.

A walk-through of the garage yesterday revealed no security cameras.

Police said they did not know how long Bassett had been at the mall, if he was targeted or if it was a random crime. Police declined to say whether anything was taken from him. They would not to say how many times Bassett was shot and where.

Bassett taught science at St. Paul's, a private Episcopal school, for 31 years, school officials said yesterday. He was also the dean of faculty, overseeing hiring and professional development, and was a college counselor.

His son, Graham Bassett of Cleveland, graduated from St. Paul's School for Boys two years ago, and his daughter, Julia, is a senior at the girl's school. His wife, Susan, is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

His wife declined to comment, and other family members could not be reached.

Yesterday, shocked students and administrators gathered at the Brooklandville campus. They described Bassett as a caring instructor who always said hello in the hall.

Rick Hebert of Lutherville took Bassett's biology course as a freshman and failed the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Hebert was gathering his books after class when he felt Bassett at his elbow.

"I thought he was going to tell me to pay more attention or to try harder," said Hebert, now a senior. "He said, `I think you're having some trouble,' and suggested we get together to go over things."

Hebert would arrive at school at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, an hour before classes started, and they would go to the biology lab to review cell respiration and photosynthesis for half an hour.

"I really didn't expect teachers to do things like that. I didn't have to go to him [for help]. My Mom didn't have to go to him. He came to me," said Hebert, who got a "B" in the second semester.

"It was one of my favorite classes," he said.

As an administrator, Bassett demanded that students learn to think independently and told teachers to encourage independent thought. "He really changed the culture," Darrell said. "He felt that if we coddled them, we would cripple them [intellectually]."

Bassett was a steadying influence as a college counselor, many said. Academic expectations are high at St. Paul's, and many students and parents become jittery about the admissions process.

"He had a way of calming people," said Jim Smith, president of the school's board of trustees, who has two children at the school. "He felt that there was a fit for every kid. He felt there were many choices every kid had. It didn't always have to be in Ivy League."

Colleagues said Bassett extended a helping hand outside the classroom. The Rev. Mike Wallens, the school's chaplain, interviewed for a job at St. Paul's seven years ago, shortly after he had open-heart surgery. Bassett picked up Wallens at the airport and gave him a tour of Baltimore and St. Paul's campus.

Wallens was worried about his stamina. "Do what you can," Bassett told him. "If you get tired, we'll just put you on a couch somewhere."

Bassett attended many St. Paul's athletic events but was especially entranced by his daughter's dance performances. "He was enthralled," Wallens said. "You could see her grace and beauty and expertise grow every year, and he would always talk about how far she had come."

Both of Bassett's children were adopted, and during a speech his senior year, Graham Bassett spoke of how grateful he was that he had been adopted by the Bassetts and what a difference the couple had made in his life. "He was a wonderful father," Wallens said.

As Darrell mourns his friend, he takes comfort that one of Bassett's goals was to "make everyone self-sufficient. His idea of being a good administrator was to make sure that the place would run smoothly even if he wasn't there. I just didn't think it would be so soon."

Grief counselors will be available when classes resume at St. Paul's on Tuesday. All after-school activities will be canceled. On Wednesday, classes will be canceled at noon, and a funeral will be held at 2 p.m. at Old St. Paul's Church, 309 Cathedral Street, Baltimore.

Police are asking anyone with knowledge of the shooting to contact them at 410-307-2020.

Sun staff writers Phillip McGowan and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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