Howard County police will meet with residents concerned about violence at Columbia's Long Reach Village Center tomorrow after a fight outside the center's Exxon station was believed to have led to a shooting at a nearby apartment complex that wounded a 4-year-old.
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Long Reach High School.
Fahad Islam was "doing well and resting comfortably" yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital after undergoing surgery Friday night to remove the bullet from his head, spokesman Michael Levin-Epstein said. Islam had been coloring in the living room of his family's two-story, garden-style apartment about 6 p.m. Friday when the stray bullet penetrated the front window on the first floor and knocked him to the ground.
Fahad's uncle, Mohammad Hossain, said yesterday that relatives did not see the shooting because the bullet likely came from an unlit wooded area behind the back of the Sierra Woods apartments in the 8700 block of Airybrink Lane. Fahad's mother, Farida Bagum, was warming dinner and running water in the kitchen in the back of the apartment at the time. At first, both Bagum and her 5-year-old daughter, Afnan, thought a rock had knocked down the boy.
Relatives brought home from the hospital two Polaroid photos of Fahad. In the photos, the boy is smiling and wearing a large neck brace and white bandage around his head. Hossain said that his nephew is talking.
The finger-sized bullet hole in the window was scheduled to be repaired yesterday. Police said that the shooter did not target the family.
"No one has told us why," Hossain said. "Why did they come over here?"
The "fellas" who hang out at the Long Reach Village Center have long frightened 58-year-old Rachel Peterson, who lives in the same cul-de-sac as Fahad. At the time of the shooting, Peterson's godchildren were playing ball in the street with other kids. Upon hearing the gunfire, Peterson said, the children ran indoors.
Peterson said that she considers her neighborhood safe, but that she was not surprised to learn that the fight began at the village center on the other side of busy Tamar Drive.
"I don't have a car, so I don't go over to the village center after dark," Peterson said. "Young guys hang out in front of the liquor store and at the filling station. You never know what's going to happen."
This not the first time that Police Chief Wayne Livesay has spoken to residents in Long Reach, Columbia's largest village, about crime and loitering. Livesay held a community meeting in September 2001 after a man was stabbed in the back twice when a mob of people chased him and three friends from the same Exxon station into the Sierra Woods complex.
In the more recent case, Exxon owner Shamim Malik said that he gave police a surveillance tape of a man buying items at the counter shortly before a few other men assaulted him outside. One of his employees reported the fight to police shortly before the shooting, he said.
Police would not confirm the existence of the tape yesterday.
Marvin Lynn, who chaired a small study focusing on youth problems in Long Reach, said that loitering has worsened in the area. The March 2005 report found "growing tension" between the youths living in nearby "pockets of low-income" rental housing who consider the village center their hangout, and merchants and other residents. The report also noted that teens argued that they were often victims of "racial profiling."
"I have been told that the fights are often about drugs or over girlfriends and kids' stuff," said Lynn, who is an assistant professor of minority and urban education at the University of Maryland, College Park. "There'll be three or four kids hanging out, and there'll be a disagreement and something happens.
"One kid talked about how if a girl walks by, you try to talk to her or get her phone number. And then the girl's boyfriend comes back later and tries to make trouble. It's often really trivial. I don't think there's any sort of massive organized crime in Long Reach."
Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said that investigators do not believe the recent shooting is gang-related. She also said that the department could not comment on recent crime trends because officers are in the process of compiling that information for tomorrow's meeting.
Lynn, however, said that the situation will continue to worsen unless more is done to provide support services for teens, including free after-school programs and internship opportunities.
In June 1997, the village, which at the time had violent crime rates more than double the county's average, was declared one of the first 35 "hot spots" for crime in Maryland. County police also have a substation in the shopping center, where an officer is assigned 40 hours a week and others come and go to file reports.
"The groups with the responsibility to do something about it have done nothing," Lynn said. "After we have given them reports and talked with them, they have told us that it's not our job; it's parents' responsibility. I disagree. The situation is a direct consequence of no support services for kids in place."
Sun reporters Laura Cadiz and Stephanie Desmon contributed to this article.