On Monday, 19-year-old Rodney Vest Pridget stopped by the Northeast Baltimore group home where he once lived. He watched TV with old friends and told them he was heading to the Towson Town Center mall.
Hours later, Pridget was found dead of gunshot wounds on a sidewalk outside a service entrance to Nordstrom as crowds of people inside shopped for Christmas presents.
People who knew Pridget struggled to understand what had happened to him. Baltimore County Police released few details about the shooting beyond the victim's name, emphasizing that the mall is safe and they do not believe that Pridget's death was a case of random violence. On Wednesday, police said there were no suspects in custody and urged the public to contact the department with any information about the case.
At his visit Monday, Pridget told friends he would visit again Friday, said 21-year-old Kevin Evans, who lives in the area and is friends with some residents at the group home.
"He was just the same old Rodney," Evans said Tuesday. "I don't know what would make someone want to do that to Rodney."
Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said investigators are making progress and added that surveillance from both within and outside the mall is "playing a significant role in helping clear this case."
"We know now, based on the investigation so far, that this was absolutely not a random act of violence," he said at a news conference. "This was absolutely not a robbery."
Police have determined that Pridget and the assailant were in the mall before the incident, which took place around 6 p.m. Monday, Johnson said. He would not say whether there could have been more than one shooter.
An employee at the group home for boys on Althea Avenue said Pridget had moved out last April, but said he was not authorized to say anything else about Pridget's time there.
A big red bow hung on the home's front door for Christmas.
"He was right here on the porch with us yesterday," Evans said. "He always stopped through here to come talk to us."
According to city court records, Pridget had lived at an apartment building in Parkville during the past year.
In September, he was sentenced to three years of supervised probation stemming from an August 2010 incident, Baltimore court records show. Pridget had pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and fourth-degree burglary, according to court records.
According to those documents, Pridget was part of a group of seven to 10 young men who robbed a man in the 4600 block of York Road. The records show the men asked the victim if he had "a problem" with one of the members of their group, then rushed inside and assaulted the man, threatening to "shoot up" the apartment and stealing an XBox. In May, the victim picked Pridget and two others out of a photo lineup.
Only Pridget was convicted, with prosecutors dropping charges against his co-defendants, Darren McCullum and Lamar Watson. Those men were subsequently charged with attempted first-degree murder stemming from a shooting in April, and their cases are pending.
Pridget's father, Rodney, said his son was recently "trying to do the right thing" in life and that his mother had died when he was 14.
His son had called him Saturday, Pridget said.
"We talked about him getting a job," he said. "That was the last thing he said to me."
Shortly after stores opened Tuesday at Towson Town Center, "Joy to the World" played on the mall's speakers. Red and green decorations hung from the ceilings, and poinsettias filled planters.
For some shoppers, news of the shooting made them pause.
Earlina Miles, of Towson, was carrying Nordstrom bags and said she hadn't heard about the shooting. But when she learned the man had been shot in the early evening, she said, "That's exactly why I come here in the daytime."
At night, "there's a lot of people just kind of watching people shop, I have noticed," she said.
Dennis Colhouer, of Ellicott City, was doing his Christmas shopping, and said he comes to the mall five or six times a year. "Most of that stuff is not random," he said of the shooting. "So it doesn't really concern me."
Robin Smith, who sells Lindt chocolates at a kiosk, said it seemed like a normal day at the mall. "It doesn't seem like anyone is scared to come up here," she said.
County Councilman David Marks, who represents the Towson area, joined police at the Tuesday news conference.
"I think most people recognize that this is an isolated incident," said Marks, a Republican. "[The mall] is going to be probably more safe than it was before."
Mike Steiner of Timonium said he had tried to go shopping Monday night, but couldn't get in because police had blocked mall entrances. He returned Tuesday morning.
"I think it's a safe mall," Steiner said, pointing to a security camera in the parking garage. "I think we're pretty well protected."
In a prepared statement, mall manager Charles Crerand said the mall's "extensive video surveillance system" was aiding police.
"The safety and security of our shoppers, retailers and employees are our top concerns every day, not just when incidents occur," he said.
A 2005 Baltimore County law required shopping centers with 15 or more retail businesses to install security cameras. That measure was prompted by the killing of 58-year-old William Bassett, a popular St. Paul's School science teacher and dean, in the Towson Town Center parking garage.
Detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the Baltimore County Police Department at 410-307-2020.
Baltimore Sun reporters Mary Gail Hare, Justin Fenton and Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.