Lance Taweel (left), Katrina Hodge and Rebecca Basena Kampi… (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore…)
Four children who recently lost their mother and their Columbia home after a domestic dispute allegedly escalated into murder and arson are picking up the pieces of their shattered lives as best they can, say friends of the family.
But to help ease the children's recovery from the double tragedy, the community is pulling together to raise money to replace a lifetime's worth of belongings destroyed in the blaze.
Thelma Shane Wynn, 35, was stabbed to death Sept. 7 and her three-bedroom apartment in Treover Condominiums was set on fire afterward to cover up the killing, county police say.
Damon Willie White, 34, Wynn's ex-husband and the father of her youngest child, was indicted Oct. 13 by a Howard County grand jury on charges of first-degree murder and arson. He was found injured in the condo at the same time Wynn's body was discovered, police said.
White is being held without bond at the Howard County Detention Center and is due in court Dec. 8 at a scheduling conference to set pretrial motions and a trial date, according to Wayne Kirwan, spokesman for the Howard County state's attorney's office.
But the plight of the children, who friends say are very close, has been weighing heavily on the minds of community members, said Safire Windley, a program coordinator at the Columbia Association Teen Center in the Oakland Mills Village Center.
The community will celebrate Wynn's life and raise money for the children she left behind at an event Monday called "Going for the Wynn: Gone, But Not Forgotten" at La Palapa Grill and Cantina in Ellicott City.
"We want these kids to know that we've got their backs," said Windley, who also lives in Treover and said she often chatted with Wynn as they walked their dogs. "And we want to send the message that domestic violence is not tolerated here."
Wynn had obtained a restraining order against White in 2008, before their divorce, but she had let him stay with her for several weeks before the incident, according to neighbors.
The fundraiser is being organized by members of the Teen Outreach Committee, which meets at the teen center in The Barn, and the CA Teen Advisory Council, which meets at association headquarters. The two groups are collaborating on the event with the Community Life Worship Center, which has offices in Columbia.
"These teens are getting the message firsthand that it's better to give than to receive," said Windley, who noted that the Wynn children lost all their belongings in the fire and need shoes, clothing and other basic necessities.
"The teens are also learning about healthy relationships and what to do if a friend gets in this situation," she said. "This brings a purpose to the pain."
Lance Taweel, a junior at Reservoir High School in Fulton, travels across the county just to take part in the 15-member advisory council, which meets twice a month in Wilde Lake and works on projects to benefit a range of causes, including the American Red Cross and Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center.
"The thing I love about this committee is that anybody can join, and in order to make a difference you just have to be committed," he said. "It's such an active group with insightful ideas."
Katrina Hodge, a freshman at Wilde Lake High School, echoed that sentiment.
"I like that we can do so much on this committee," said Hodge, who's in her second year with the council, which will meet again Dec. 2 and is open to all teens. "And once you commit yourself to something, you realize you've got to stick with it."
Rene Buckmon, manager of the teen center, said that while she doesn't know what happened between Wynn and White on that day, "sometimes people just snap."
Stephen Ganntt, an Oakland Mills High sophomore who's on the outreach committee, said the two girls who attend the school are "finding ways to deal with [their situation] and are doing OK."
"But Thanksgiving will be an awkward holiday for them without their mom there," said an empathetic Jakub Hrabovcak, a 10th-grader at Oakland Mills who is also on the committee. "They would have been expecting to be all together at the dinner table."
The four children, who range in age from 7 to 17, lived in Baltimore for about a month after the fire until the father of the eldest child stepped forward to take them all in, allowing the siblings to stay together, Windley said, adding that the man prefers to remain anonymous.
"It's amazing that the kids were able to move back to their same neighborhood," said Windley, who said she's still choked with emotion about whether more could have been done to help Wynn.
"There are horrible memories for them here, but yet they're back with their friends and that gives them a needed routine and a sense of familiarity," she said.