Friends say shooting victim 'cherished life'

Md. native dies in Fla. in apparent murder-suicide

April 05, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

In the nearly nine years since graduating from Centennial High School, Matthew Lennon and a group of boyhood friends from Ellicott City often gathered for impromptu reunions. The last get-together came two weeks ago, when Lennon flew up from Florida to visit his family.

With three other friends, he spent the evening at Nottingham's, a favorite nightclub hangout in Columbia.

"It was pretty serendipitous," recalled Mani Kahn, who had come from New York City the same weekend to see his family. "I'm glad it happened."

Last week, many of Lennon's friends were making plans to return home again, but not for the kind of reunion any of them had expected.

Lennon, 26, who had been living in the Miami area for the past two years, was shot and killed in an apparent murder-suicide in an apartment in Dania Beach on March 28 shortly after midnight.

According to police, Lennon and a friend, Jack Benrube, were at the apartment of Joseph Blanco, another friend, when Blanco shot Lennon in the chest with a Glock revolver shortly after 12:30 a.m. and then killed himself. Benrube, who was injured by an accidental shot, told police that Blanco thought Lennon had attacked Benrube.

Police said Benrube told them he had suffered an asthma attack and was trying to crawl to the balcony for air. All three men had been drinking earlier in the night, police said, with Lennon and Benrube going to a Fort Lauderdale bar to watch the NCAA basketball tournament games before stopping at Blanco's place.

"In the old days, this might have ended up as a fistfight among drunken friends. The difference here is the gun," said Broward County police spokeswoman Dani Moscheller. She said the department has a squad that tracks the use of firearms because of their prevalence in South Florida.

Lennon's mother, Susan, was left to assail the dangerous combination of alcohol and firearms.

"If your child dies in a car accident, you'd say, 'OK, it was a car accident.' To actually be murdered, it's so senseless," she said. "His father is trying to put something on his obituary notice about the drinking and guns and the risks that happen."

Within hours of Lennon's death, a former girlfriend began notifying his old friends from Ellicott City and put together a memorial on Facebook. A similar tribute was started on a blog about the Miami bar scene, where one friend recalled how they kidded "Baltimore" Matt about his accent.

In the days since the shooting, Lennon's lifelong friends have struggled to come to grips with his death while pondering the role that a lifestyle common to many in their generation might have played.

Ryan Perry, who grew up with Lennon and now lives in Carroll County, said that hearing the grisly details of Lennon's death was more disturbing than learning that one of his oldest friends had died.

"To be honest, if I had heard that it was a car accident and he had been drinking, it wouldn't have changed anything, but it wouldn't have been as shocking," Perry said. "This is so out of the realm of possibility."

Alex Bowman, a longtime friend who lived with Lennon for more than a year in Florida, said that although he was often concerned for his friend, he never would've expected what happened.

"I worried about that kid every day," said Bowman, who works as a chef in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I worried about [getting] the call. But did I think it would be murder? That's a movie."

Kahn, a medical student who had known Lennon since the third grade, said that a lifestyle in which social activities often revolve around drinking "has its risks."

Susan and Norman Lennon, who are divorced, said their son was a hard-working sports fanatic who loved the Ravens. He also was an avid outdoorsman who was familiar with the dangers of guns.

"I have a real problem with handguns, with handguns being available," said Norman Lennon, a custom-home builder who lives in Sykesville. "From the police report, that guy [Blanco] was a licensed holder of a concealed weapon that killed Matt. Apparently, down there, handguns are everywhere."

Susan Lennon, who also has a 28-year-old daughter and lives in Ellicott City, said that her son was often photographed holding a beer, but she didn't consider him to have a serious drinking problem.

"He would go out and meet friends," she said. "The night it happened, he was watching the basketball games. That was Matt."

Longtime friends remembered Lennon as a fun-loving, big-hearted young man who they referred to mostly by his last name.

"He was the type of person who cherished life," Perry said. "He would light up a room. He would have done anything for anybody. If he was still here and it had been one of us who had died, he would have been the one comforting everybody."

Bowman said he frequently spoke to Lennon or sent him text messages, including a recent photo of a fishing tackle box Bowman had adorned with a Ravens sticker. They had often fished together and had once caught an alligator by accident.

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