Two teens held in stabbing at Columbia mall

Victim's condition critical

police suspect drug dispute

January 10, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon and June Arney | Tyeesha Dixon and June Arney,Sun Reporters

The stabbing of a 17-year-old boy at The Mall in Columbia on Tuesday is believed to be drug-related, police said yesterday as they announced that two teenagers had been charged in the incident.

Word that arrests had been made, and that the crime was not believed to be random, came as a relief to some shoppers at the mall, but some said they remained surprised that violence had come to one of the Howard County community's prime gathering spots.

"I didn't feel that something like that would happen in this area," Linda Hand of Clarksville said outside JC Penney, not far from where the crime occurred. "I feel relatively safe here."

As the stabbing victim remained in critical condition yesterday, police identified the two teenagers charged in the incident.

Bernardo Leconte, 18, of Columbia and Cordero D. Taylor, 16, of Forestville in Prince George's County have been charged with attempted first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, carrying a concealed weapon and reckless endangerment.

A Howard County District Court judge denied bail yesterday for Taylor, who was charged as an adult. Leconte also is being held without bail pending a postponed bail review hearing.

The victim is Julian Lichtenstein, according to charging documents, and police said yesterday that he was in critical condition and stable at Shock Trauma.

Officers responded to a call at the mall about 4 p.m. Tuesday and found Lichtenstein with multiple stab wounds in a parking lot near the JC Penney department store. He was taken by state police helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he underwent surgery.

Police apprehended Leconte and Taylor, who were spotted running separately from the scene, shortly after the stabbing, according to charging documents. Leconte "dropped a bloody knife when confronted by the officer," the documents said.

Both suspects later admitted their involvement in the altercation and that Leconte had used a knife to stab the victim, according to the documents, which referred to the weapon carried by Leconte as a "folding knife."

Witnesses told police that Leconte and Taylor were the only people fighting with Lichtenstein, according to the documents.

Late yesterday, county police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said no details about the drug aspect of the incident were available.

Mall management sought yesterday to assure the public that safety is a priority.

"Incidents similar to [Tuesday's] at the mall can happen anywhere," Rich Dinning, associate general manager of the mall, said in a statement. "The incident that occurred was an isolated one and should not be a reflection of our security efforts."

Some mall-goers said yesterday that although the incident was frightening, they still generally feel safe at the popular mall.

"It was scary, because nobody really knew what was going on," said Kasey Puls, 18, a freshman at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland who was working at the L.L. Bean store on the other side of the complex when the stabbing occurred. "People kept coming in telling us what was happening. We hadn't heard anything officially."

Puls, who has worked at the mall for more than a year, was relieved to hear that the incident did not appear to be a random attack. She said she has always felt safe at the mall.

Phillip Ermer, a 50-year-old Calvert County resident, said he didn't expect such a crime to occur in Columbia.

"It's not uncommon in [Prince George's] County, where I was born and raised," he said. "It's kind of shocking."

As a reporter and photographer talked with people outside JC Penney yesterday, a woman being dropped off said, "Oh, let's not panic in Columbia."

Hand, the Clarksville resident and the mother of a 17-year-old daughter, said she realized how much supervision teens that age need.

"It's important to know who their friends are and what they're doing," she said, standing beside her daughter, Caitlin, whom she had brought to the mall to shop for a friend's birthday gift.

"I think it's horrible that this is happening and that kids are getting into that stuff already," said Caitlin, 17, a senior at Atholton High School. "They just have to make better decisions."

County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a West Columbia Democrat, said even security that appears sufficient can't prevent crimes such as Tuesday's stabbing.

"Even with the best of security, things happen," Sigaty said.

Columbia Association board member Gail Broida, who represents Town Center, said violence in such a setting draws extra scrutiny.

"I don't know if it would have been such a splash if it had happened on a street corner somewhere," Broida said.

One retail consultant said malls are no more likely to experience violence than other locations but draw more attention.

"Any time violence happens at a place we traditionally think of as safe, like a school or the mall or a public place where you least expect it to happen, it [contradicts] what we think of as safe or normal," said Doug Fleener, president of Dynamic Experiences Group, a retail consulting firm in Lexington, Mass.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com june.arney@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Larry Carson and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

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