For Baltimore pharmacy grad, pomp and a bad circumstance

May 18, 2007|By JEAN MARBELLA

Rehka Thomas graduates today, four years of pharmacy school behind her and a great party ahead of her, with a cake shaped like a mortar and pestle, and prescription bottle favors with instructions to take two of the candy pills inside to treat a sweet tooth.

Like other graduates who scatter once they get their degrees, she, too, plans to leave Baltimore - but in her case, she's leaving with, and because of, an unwanted souvenir: a bullet, embedded in her upper chest where her clavicle and sternum meet.

"This scared me right out of Baltimore," Thomas said ruefully yesterday.

In the larger scheme of things, at a time when the city's homicide rate has jumped to the point that a city councilman has proposed "desperate," martial law-like measures, Thomas' shooting, at her Ridgely's Delight home May 7, merited a mere three sentences in The Sun's "police blotter" sampling of area crimes last week.

And yet, it's like what they say about politics: All crime is local. Meaning when it hits close to home, it looms large.

It's an issue that looms large for many of us, I think - which is why I'm devoting this and my next column to a recent rash of crimes in this part of the city, Ridgely's Delight and neighboring Barre Circle, southwest of downtown. While the higher profile murders tend to get most of the attention - and rightfully so - these smaller crimes are like a low-grade and yet persistent fever. It's chronic, rather than fatal, and you can live with it.

Until you choose not to, as Thomas and her husband, Jake, now are considering.

"Living here, you expect your car to be broken into," Jake Thomas said of the neighborhood where they've lived for five years. "But this is a definite escalation."

His wife's shooting - in broad daylight and for no apparent reason, such as a burglary - has residents in their triangular enclave, between the University of Maryland, Baltimore complex to the north, Camden Yards to the east and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the west, as well as those living in Barre Circle on the other side of MLK, on edge.

The couple was home that morning - he works as a computer consultant and her classwork at the University of Maryland Pharmacy School was winding down - when someone knocked on the door about 10 a.m. Expecting a friend later that day, Rehka Thomas opened the door and instead found two teenagers. She remembers thinking they must be selling something for school, but instead, one pulled out a gun - slowly enough that Thomas was able to slam the door shut.

Two shots came through the door as she screamed and fumbled to lock it. Hearing the commotion, her husband ran downstairs and hit the panic button on their home alarm system. He pulled his wife behind their living room sofa and dialed 911. Paramedics and police arrived in a couple of minutes, and began treating Rehka Thomas, then took her to Shock Trauma.

She's OK now, physically, except for having a bullet lodged in her chest - doctors told her it's safer to leave it there for now than to remove it, and it ultimately might work its way out. But it will prevent her from getting MRIs, and she now has to carry a letter to explain why she's setting off metal detectors.

As the initial shock wears off, and she gets through the excitement of graduation, the horror of having been shot, in her own home, is rising to the surface. She and her husband had planned to stay here another year, then move somewhere to start a family, but the shooting might speed up those plans. They're thinking of selling the house and moving to Tennessee, where Rehka grew up and her family lives.

"I just don't want to see this door anymore," she said, fingering where her husband had filled in the gunshot hole. "We want to start over somewhere else."

Their friend and neighbor, Dan McLellan, a dentist, has been thinking similar thoughts since last month, when he was attacked on a nearby street. He and a date had left his house and were about to look for a cab to take them to meet friends in Federal Hill, when four men emerged from around the corner and accosted them. They tried to run, but two struck McLellan and demanded his wallet. They got away with $20.

"This is not normal. This isn't something that should be tolerated," said McLellan, a former police officer in the San Francisco Bay area who moved to Baltimore to attend the Maryland Dental School. He stayed, even after graduating and joining a practice in Annapolis, because he has so many close friends in Ridgely's Delight - he and Jake Thomas are part of an avid golfing group.

Both say they feel the neighborhood has held up its end - residents know one another and keep an eye on things. At the first sign of anything amiss, they alert the police and each other.

That does help, agreed Kevin Jones, a Baltimore police detective in the Southern District. He said police think they have some good information on the assaults and are continuing their investigation.

"Those residents in that area are willing to come forward," he said. "We have citizens there who want to get involved and help the police. They call the station all the time, `I have some info.'"

But, of course, that only goes so far - no arrests have been made in the assaults.

So now McLellan is pricing properties in Severna Park and Annapolis, closer to his work, while the Thomases are looking toward Tennessee, although I got the sense they'd really like to stay put if they could. Rehka Thomas, for example, went ahead and took the test earlier this week to be licensed in Maryland.

As I mentioned earlier, more on this in the next column, on one resident and business owner who is staying put, and why.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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Find Jean Marbella's column archive at baltimoresun.com/marbella

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