Neighbors paint contrasting portrait of suspect in Dundalk shooting

Randy DiGennaro charged with shooting man in parking space dispute

April 18, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

By some accounts, Randy Scott DiGennaro was a terrific neighbor — the type who would shovel snow and cut grass for the elderly, and run errands for the sick. But others felt intimidated by the man who sat guard on his front porch.

Baltimore County authorities said the tension on Fairgreen Road in Dundalk erupted Friday night in an argument over a parking space and ended with gunfire. In the aftermath, the 55-year-old DiGennaro has been charged with attempted murder and a man who lived nearby remains critically injured with bullet wounds to his face and chest.

The 45-year-old victim, Brian David Sheppard, had planned to visit his childhood friend, a disabled man who lived next door to DiGennaro, and had a six-pack of beer in his vehicle. Neighbors said he might have parked too close to the suspect's new truck, sparking an argument.

The shooting has left residents divided on their sympathies, but they agreed that if DiGennaro did what police say he did, something snapped.

After the shooting about 9:30 p.m., police said, DiGennaro barricaded himself in his home, leading to an hours-long standoff. Officers said they found the him about 4 a.m. asleep in an upstairs bedroom, next to a loaded .357-caliber handgun. Police said they found the .32-caliber handgun and ammunition that they believe was used in the shooting in DiGennaro's gun room.

Initial police reports said the shooting occurred after Sheppard accidentally parked his car in DiGennaro's driveway. But there is no driveway, and neighbors pieced together details and said that Sheppard might have parked too close to DiGennaro's truck or blocked space in front of his house.

Longtime friend Charles Fritz, who lives across the street, visited Sheppard at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and said the victim told him that DiGennaro ordered him to not park in front of his friend's home. Sheppard, who lived nearby, often visited his childhood friend, Fritz and DiGennaro's next-door neighbor.

Sheppard has previously been arrested on minor drug and assault charges with a conviction for obstruction. DiGennaro does not have any criminal history, according to electronic court records. Mark Phoebus, his neighbor and friend, said he's never even seen him lose his temper.

A steelworker, DiGennaro was excited about returning to work at Sparrows Point, neighbors said, and he bought a new silver Chevy truck to celebrate. Police said in court papers that the suspect had a "gun room" in his house. Many knew that he collected weapons, Phoebus said, but he didn't carry them recklessly.

"I can't tell you what happened or why it happened," Phoebus said. "He was not disgruntled. He'd always wave and talk to you. He wasn't a troublemaker. I was shocked when I saw the [police light] hit that home. Not Randy."

DiGennaro was a good fit for the neighborhood, where bonds were strengthened in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isabel, said Elizabeth Matthews, who has lived on the block for about 50 years with her husband Ralph, a retired Baltimore City police officer. When Ralph Matthews was recovering from open heart surgery, DiGennaro pitched in with other neighbors to help the couple.

The couple was inside during the shooting but did not realize anything had happened until they heard helicopters above their home. Soon after, the SWAT team was posted on the lawn that DiGennaro once cut.

"He was at a happy time," Ralph Matthews said. "He was enjoying life. Something had to really snap. Randy, other than that, I don't think would hurt a flea."

The couple said that he belongs to a gun club and that he generally kept to himself and joked about his "happy hour" — coming home after a long day to read the paper and have a drink or two before his wife returned from work.

"I would hate to see anybody try to paint him as a bad person, because he's not. I know he's not," Matthews said.

Some neighbors said DiGennaro might have been provoked, but they were at a loss to explain what happened on Friday.

Fritz, the victim's friend, said he and DiGennaro got into a fistfight about three years ago. After that, Fritz said, he tried to steer clear.

"All these other neighbors say, 'We can't believe Randy did something like that,' " Fritz said. "I believe it."

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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