Many Residents on Edge After Professor's Murder
Second District police Cmdr. Russ Hamill attempted to allay residents’ fears over recent increase in crime.
Residents of the Glen Echo Heights and Mohican Hills neighborhoods filled the auditorium at the Washington Waldorf School to near capacity on Wednesday to hear Cmdr. Russ Hamill of Montgomery County Police's second district and community policing coordinator officer Denise Gill address a recent spate of crimes in the area, including the murder of American University professor Sue Marcum.
John Fenton, a Glen Echo Heights resident, said the number of attendees was "triple, maybe quadruple" the number of folks who typically attend Glen Echo Heights Citizens' Association (GEHCA) meetings. Fenton added that "maybe an election [of board members]" would draw such a large turnout.
"This is a substantial number of people," said Harry Pfoh, GEHCA president, and a 24-year resident of Glen Echo Heights.
Residents are on high alert — and anxious — following a string of crimes, including burglary, car theft and murder, in this quiet, wooded community that borders the C&O Canal.
"I'm quite apprehensive, nervous," said Gloria Fenton, a 48-year resident of Glen Echo Heights. "We live up on a hill, which is the beginning of a cul-de-sac. This area is so heavily wooded. It's so scary – it really upset all of us."
The day before Marcum's murder on Oct. 25, Fenton's 20-year-old grandson and his younger brother, who live just three blocks from Marcum, were hauling a load of wood when they noticed two men "messing" with the back door of a neighbor's home. Her older grandson, according to Fenton, chased the men down the Mohican Pool path. A two-hour chase ensued with Fenton and her son, John, cruising the streets in a car, and the police with canines in pursuit.
The two men disappeared. The police found no evidence of a break in, according to Fenton, so no police report was filed.
Fenton stressed the need for more security and police patrols in the community. "Our neighbors ought to trim their bushes so we see the doors and see the windows," said Fenton.
Gill asked the residents to ask themselves, "What is the most vulnerable part of my home?" She urged them to request a home security survey in which an officer assesses everything from locks on doors and windows to shrub height to signage and lighting. "You are trying to dissuade someone from choosing your house."
One resident asked Hamill to guide the community to "think through the steps we take" should an intruder enter their home. Hamill said it was a good question and replied, "I believe it's important to have a plan."
Hamill recommended securing valuables away from windows and doors and to have easy access to a cell phone during the evening hours. Hamill continued, "Retreat to a safe area and call. Tell us what's going on, that there is — not you think — someone in my house."
Marcum's death on Oct 25 has ushered in an unsettling chill in this typically safe community. Residents came to seek answers and receive assurances from the police that Marcum's case will indeed be solved.
Her [Marcum's] murder spurred my interest to find out what the police are doing to protect the neighborhood and solve the case," said Michael Gaba, a 13-year resident of Glen Echo Heights. "It hits home. It's hard to believe it's in my neighborhood — that's the gut reaction that I had."
Deandrew Hamlin, 18, was arrested for stealing Marcum's Jeep shortly after she was found dead in her home. Hamill stated that he remains a "person of interest." However, Hamill provided no additional details on the investigation or about Hamlin's possible link to the murder.
"I ask that people please have patience," Hamill said. "Our detectives are leaving nothing unchecked. They are following up a lot of leads, tips and evidence from the scene. We will leave no stone unturned."
Some residents felt that Hamill had eased their anxiety and offered useful tips.
"I think he provided some good, practical advice on how to conduct our daily lives…be proactive and take some responsibility in our neighborhood," said Gaba.
Others said as they exited the meeting that they were hoping for more details about Marcum's murder and were frustrated that they didn't have an opportunity to ask more questions.
Their palpable unease drifted into the cool, night air.