Killing stuns friends, kin of dentist in Glen Burnie

Victim recalled as likable, religious, Korean leader

September 30, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel and Anica Butler | Andrea F. Siegel and Anica Butler,Sun reporters

A quiet but sociable dentist, Albert Woonho Ro enjoyed his family, golf and religious worship.

This week, he was found beaten to death in his Glen Burnie office, devastating his family, stunning the Korean community and setting his neighbors in the complex on edge.

Preparing for the funeral today, Michael Ro, a doctor, said he has no idea why his brother met such a violent death.

"That is why I hope the police can find out and help us solve the mystery. We as a family, we want quick closure to the matter, as to who and how and why. We are still shocked. The mystery of what is surrounding this is making this more difficult," he said.

Yesterday, at the entrance to the dentist's office in the Chatham Executive Office Park stood a small white ceramic vase with a perky blue and green design. It held a bouquet of wilting white daisies, a reminder of the death that occurred behind the locked door.

A peek through the glass door showed a small, neat waiting area with bits of leaves scattered on the carpeting. But the room in the back was pulled apart, cabinets open and contents strewn on the floor.

Anne Arundel County police found the body of the 51-year-old Hanover resident inside Tuesday. His wife, Susan, had called police about 10 p.m. and met them outside the office after she was unable to reach Ro by telephone and grew worried. Officers said he had been battered so badly that it was difficult to identify him.

Police are continuing to investigate the slaying.

"I am just lost," said David Han, a friend of more than 30 years and president of the Korean Society of Maryland. "I tell you, it is going to be more traumatic to our community when we find out what really happened," he said.

Han described Ro as generous with the society and Christian church organizations.

"He was our praise leader, praise director" at different churches over time, leading songs in prayer, Han said.

A nephew, Peter Kim of Pikesville, called him "a very laid-back guy" and fondly recalled sitting with him at church, including at services at Bethel Presbyterian in Ellicott City.

"He played guitar," Kim said, describing his uncle as a self-taught musician. "He was always leading the music. He was pretty good. He wasn't showy; he was comfortable."

And he was well-known among the churchgoing children. "He taught us all Sunday school. He was a pretty strict disciplinarian -- inside the classroom. Outside, he would play sports with us," Kim recalled.

He was also like others in his family: smart, educated professionals.

The family -- Ro's parents and their four children -- emigrated from South Korea in 1970. They moved several times around the Baltimore area, living in Westminster, Towson and Randallstown.

Ro graduated in 1974 from McDonogh School, where he was a solid student, his brother said. He went on to study biology at Washington College on Maryland's Eastern Shore. From there, it was on to the University of Maryland's dental school. He received his degree in 1982.

He received his Maryland dental license in 1984, according to the Maryland State Board of Dental Examiners.

He served as a captain in the Air Force for about three years. During a yearlong tour in South Korea, he became reacquainted with members of his extended family who still lived in that country, his brother said. After leaving the military, he opened a general practice in Lutherville. In 1986, he opened a second office in Glen Burnie. Both were closed yesterday.

Ro devoted more of his time to his Lutherville office, seeing patients at the Glen Burnie office one or two days a week, others in the office park said.

Married in 1984, Ro and Young Aee Ro were the parents of two sons, James and Thomas, who are now grown. The couple separated in 2001 and divorced in 2004, according to court records. Later, he married Susan H. Kim.

They recently moved from a home in Hanover to another a few blocks away in a new, upscale development.

Yvette Chang-Fisher of Linthicum was a patient of Ro's, learning of his practice through advertising on WRBS-FM, a Christian music radio station. As he worked, Christian music played softly in his office, she said. Describing him as "very patient-concerned," she said that when part of her insurance claim was denied, he offered to resubmit it for her and did not press her for what was owed.

Ro's slaying has worried many in the office park, where owners and tenants of buildings thought nothing about leaving their doors unlocked and unattended before and after hours, until now. Yesterday, many doors were locked; many people declined to speak with a reporter, and those who did said they did not know Ro more than to wave hello. "It's a terrible thing to say, but we are hoping it was not a random act of violence," said Ron Watkins, who manages a health care billing office in the complex.

He said police indicated that whoever struck Ro was a large person.

No one could recall an assault there, certainly not in daylight. Police said there were no calls to Ro's office in the past year. Police statistics for the 1400 block of N. Crain Highway show an increase in calls in 2005 to 1,408 -- that includes everything from traffic details to sick people -- though police said the area is safe and quiet.

The killing was the ninth homicide in the county this year, police said. It was the second involving a man found slain at his business. In July, Richard Shaw, a talent agent who was the subject of numerous consumer complaints and financial actions, was fatally shot in his Hanover office. No one has been charged in Shaw's death, and police said there is no indication of a link between the two killings.

Sun reporters Tyrone Richardson and Nick Shields contributed to this article.

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