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2 Teens Held in Shopping Mall Killing

Tip leads to Mercury Cougar seen leaving Towson garage

By Laura Barnhardt and Anica Butler
Sun Staff
February 22, 2005 - Two Baltimore County teens were charged yesterday with murder in the shotgun killing of a popular private-school educator during a botched robbery Friday at Towson Town Center.

The two were arrested Sunday after a tip from a motorist who had seen two men driving away, and, for reasons police would not divulge, jotted down a description and license plate of the suspects' car, police said yesterday.

John Edward Kennedy, 18, of the 1200 block of S. Marlyn Ave. in Essex, and Javon Clark, 18, of the first block of Old Knife Court in Middle River, were charged yesterday with first-degree murder.

William A. Bassett, 58, was shot in the head with a shotgun during what is often a busy shopping hour outside an upscale mall popular with youths. The brazen crime has renewed concerns about security at the mall and also shaken staff and students at the private St. Paul's School in Brooklandville where Bassett was a science teacher and dean of faculty, overseeing hiring and professional development.

'Needle in the haystack'

"Without the information from that citizen, we would not have a resolution in this case so quickly," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Detectives received a number of tips but ultimately it was the vehicle information that enabled detectives to track the suspects, Toohey said at a news conference yesterday. He described the tip as the proverbial "needle in the haystack" that led police to the suspects.

After interviewing Kennedy and Clark, police arrested them Sunday evening.

Kennedy told detectives "that he attempted to rob the victim and then he shot him with his shotgun," according to charging documents filed in District Court in Towson. Clark said he drove Kennedy to the mall so "that they could rob someone," the court papers say. Police said they found a shotgun that they believe was used to kill Bassett hidden in Kennedy's home.

Kennedy, a 2004 graduate of Chesapeake High School, and Clark, a 2004 graduate of Kenwood High, were being held yesterday without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center. Bail review hearings are scheduled for today.

As a matter of policy, police declined to identify the tipster or to say whether he heard the shotgun blast or noticed something else suspicious. But Toohey said the man, who was driving past the mall Friday night, saw a mid-1980s Mercury Cougar leaving the mall garage and turning onto Joppa Road. He wrote down the tag number and make and model of the car.

Upon hearing of the Bassett killing, the man gave the information to a friend in the Baltimore County police intelligence unit, who relayed the tip to homicide detectives, Toohey said.

Clark, who owns the Mercury, drove up to Bassett in the garage, police said. Kennedy told detectives he got out of the car with the shotgun and attempted to rob Bassett, then shot him, court papers say.

It does not appear that either suspect knew Bassett, Toohey said.

"He was alone in an area that was not real busy," Toohey said. "He may have seemed vulnerable to them."

It was unclear yesterday whether Bassett refused to hand over his money. Bassett still had his wallet when his body was found, Toohey said.

A mall employee found Bassett's body about 8 p.m. Friday on the fifth level of the parking garage near Nordstrom, police said. The Roland Park resident and father of two had been hit in the head with a shotgun blast.

'Some sense of comfort'

St. Paul's headmaster, Thomas J. Reid, said yesterday that he was relieved that police had made arrests in the case.

"I do think it provides some sense of comfort," he said. "To not have any closure would have been very difficult."

The Rev. Mike Wallens, the school's chaplain, said he was reassured that suspects are in custody. "It's good to know they're not out on the loose," he said.

Wallens said he had spoken with Bassett's wife, Susan, and that she was "grateful to the police for all of their hard work and diligence. But she knows it all won't bring Bill back."

Mall managers declined to talk yesterday about any new measures they might take to improve security. "We constantly review our security plans and update them," said Charles Cerand, the general manager at Towson Town Center.

There are no surveillance cameras in the garage where Bassett was shot, Toohey said. There are call boxes at stairwell entrances on each floor.

Other recent crimes at the mall include the robbery of a 26-year-old woman who was struck in the face several times by a man who stole her purse Nov. 13. Earlier this month, three men stopped a shopper in the garage and asked him for a cigarette and bus fare, then robbed him of $300.

Toohey said no evidence has been found to link either suspect in the Bassett killing to other crimes at the mall. Considering the number of people who work and shop there, the shopping center is "actually quite safe," Toohey said.

In addition to mall security guards, uniformed county police officers sometimes work there part time. It was unclear yesterday how many of the off-duty officers are currently employed at Towson Town Center.

The shooting has frightened some shoppers and prompted others to be more careful. Pat France, head of the Towson-area Citizens on Patrol groups, said she's talked with many who will either shop elsewhere or take extra precautions, such as asking mall managers to escort them to their cars.

Jean Coles, who was having lunch in the food court yesterday, said she now avoids the upper levels of the parking garage.

"I am very much concerned," she said. "I have been in the garage when it's dark, and I feel very uncomfortable. It's impossible for one or two security officers to patrol the area."

Coles said the mall should have more security officers and a better system for alerting shoppers when crimes take place.

Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who represents the Towson area, said residents have complained to him in the past about security in the parking garage. He has not pursued the issue, he said, because the complaints were fairly broad.

He said he is most concerned that young people tend to loiter at the mall, a potential "invitation for problems." He said he plans to meet with the Baltimore County police chief to talk about both the Bassett shooting and the recent off-campus rape of a Towson University student.

"We're trying to do a revitalization or renaissance project in the Towson business area, and part of that includes garages," he said. "If there's a feeling in the general population that Towson is unsafe, it affects that."

At St. Paul's, the school psychologist, counselors and the school chaplain are to talk today about Bassett's death with students who were off yesterday for the Presidents Day holiday.

Classes will be canceled at noon tomorrow, and a funeral will be held at 2 p.m. at Old St. Paul's Church at Charles and Saratoga streets in Baltimore.

Sun staff writers Lisa Goldberg, Jennifer McMenamin, Sara Neufeld, Jason Song and Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun


Respected teacher at St. Paul's was Towson mall shooting victim

Police seek public's help; school mourns his loss

By Jason Song
Sun Staff
February 20, 2005 - Veteran science teacher and administrator William Bassett left St. Paul's School in Brooklandville on Friday with the papers on his desk neatly stacked. His computer was running, and there was an unopened bag of green tea near his keyboard awaiting his return.

A few hours later, Bassett, 58, was found fatally shot on the fifth floor of a parking garage at the Towson Town Center shopping mall, police said yesterday.

Baltimore County police said they have no witnesses and don't know why someone would harm the Roland Park man, who had a wife and two adopted children and had taught at St. Paul's for more than 30 years.

"He never put anything away because he knew he would come back and pick up working in the spot he had left off. It's haunting to know he won't do that," said Kent Darrell, a mathematics teacher and a longtime colleague of Bassett's.

A mall employee called 911 after she found Bassett lying on the ground near an entrance to Nordstrom about 8 p.m. His car was parked nearby and it is unclear whether Bassett was entering or leaving the mall, said Officer Shawn Vinson, a police spokesman.

"We're asking for the public's help," Vinson said.

There have been at least two robberies at the mall in recent months, and a man was fatally stabbed in a different mall parking lot three years ago.

A spokesman for General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based company that acquired the mall last year, said yesterday that the company reviews its safety measures after incidents such as the Friday's shooting.

Company officials declined to discuss specifics of the mall's security measures.

A walk-through of the garage yesterday revealed no security cameras.

Police said they did not know how long Bassett had been at the mall, if he was targeted or if it was a random crime. Police declined to say whether anything was taken from him. They would not to say how many times Bassett was shot and where.

Bassett taught science at St. Paul's, a private Episcopal school, for 31 years, school officials said yesterday. He was also the dean of faculty, overseeing hiring and professional development, and was a college counselor.

His son, Graham Bassett of Cleveland, graduated from St. Paul's School for Boys two years ago, and his daughter, Julia, is a senior at the girl's school. His wife, Susan, is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

His wife declined to comment, and other family members could not be reached.

Yesterday, shocked students and administrators gathered at the Brooklandville campus. They described Bassett as a caring instructor who always said hello in the hall.

Rick Hebert of Lutherville took Bassett's biology course as a freshman and failed the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Hebert was gathering his books after class when he felt Bassett at his elbow.

"I thought he was going to tell me to pay more attention or to try harder," said Hebert, now a senior. "He said, 'I think you're having some trouble,' and suggested we get together to go over things."

Hebert would arrive at school at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, an hour before classes started, and they would go to the biology lab to review cell respiration and photosynthesis for half an hour.

"I really didn't expect teachers to do things like that. I didn't have to go to him [for help]. My Mom didn't have to go to him. He came to me," said Hebert, who got a "B" in the second semester.

"It was one of my favorite classes," he said.

As an administrator, Bassett demanded that students learn to think independently and told teachers to encourage independent thought. "He really changed the culture," Darrell said. "He felt that if we coddled them, we would cripple them [intellectually]."

Bassett was a steadying influence as a college counselor, many said. Academic expectations are high at St. Paul's, and many students and parents become jittery about the admissions process.

"He had a way of calming people," said Jim Smith, president of the school's board of trustees, who has two children at the school. "He felt that there was a fit for every kid. He felt there were many choices every kid had. It didn't always have to be in Ivy League."

Colleagues said Bassett extended a helping hand outside the classroom. The Rev. Mike Wallens, the school's chaplain, interviewed for a job at St. Paul's seven years ago, shortly after he had open-heart surgery. Bassett picked up Wallens at the airport and gave him a tour of Baltimore and St. Paul's campus.

Wallens was worried about his stamina. "Do what you can," Bassett told him. "If you get tired, we'll just put you on a couch somewhere."

Bassett attended many St. Paul's athletic events but was especially entranced by his daughter's dance performances. "He was enthralled," Wallens said. "You could see her grace and beauty and expertise grow every year, and he would always talk about how far she had come."

Both of Bassett's children were adopted, and during a speech his senior year, Graham Bassett spoke of how grateful he was that he had been adopted by the Bassetts and what a difference the couple had made in his life. "He was a wonderful father," Wallens said.

As Darrell mourns his friend, he takes comfort that one of Bassett's goals was to "make everyone self-sufficient. His idea of being a good administrator was to make sure that the place would run smoothly even if he wasn't there. I just didn't think it would be so soon."

Grief counselors will be available when classes resume at St. Paul's on Tuesday. All after-school activities will be canceled. On Wednesday, classes will be canceled at noon, and a funeral will be held at 2 p.m. at Old St. Paul's Church, 309 Cathedral Street, Baltimore.

Police are asking anyone with knowledge of the shooting to contact them at 410-307-2020.

Sun staff writers Phillip McGowan and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.


Killing in Towson puts new spotlight on security at mall

A 58-year-old man was fatally shot in parking garage

By Phillip McGowan and Josh Mitchell
Sun Staff
February 20, 2005 - Returning with a shopping bag in hand to the parking garage of the Towson Town Center yesterday, Heidi Huber had not heard about the shooting death just the night before, just one level below.

But the 30-year-old Baltimore woman knew of two robberies within the past few months at the garage, and that has been enough to make her at least a little nervous about venturing there.

"The enclosed parking lot," she said, "lends itself to feeling a little more ominous."

The shooting death of William Bassett, the dean of faculty at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, brought renewed attention to safety issues at one of Baltimore County's retail anchors and prime gathering spots. It was the second killing at the Towson mall since 2002.

Bassett, 58, was found dead about 8 p.m. Friday on level C5 of the garage on the mall's south side, near the entrance to Nordstrom. Police said yesterday that they had no motive or suspects in the killing, and no witnesses.

A walk-through of the garage yesterday revealed call boxes near stairwells on each level but no security cameras. Off-duty Baltimore County police officers patrol inside the mall, where there's a police substation.

David Levenberg, vice president of security and loss prevention for the mall's Chicago-based parent company, General Growth Properties, declined to comment specifically on Towson Town Center's security measures. But he said the company performed a review of security practices at all of the malls acquired last year from Columbia-based Rouse Co., a list that includes Towson Town Center.

He said the company uses surveillance cameras at many of its properties as part of a $70-million-a-year investment in security and does not hesitate to install them when appropriate. He added: "Sometimes when things happen, people tend to focus on what's not there. Cameras, we found, are certainly useful in many circumstances. However they are not an end-all, be-all.

"If your deployment, your vehicle patrol, your manpower is sufficient, there may not be a need for any electronics beyond what you have."

A company spokesman, David Keating, said yesterday, "We do review our public safety measures after incidents such as these."

Representatives from Nordstrom have spoken with Towson mall officials regarding security in recent months, especially over the holidays, and found mall management "responsive," said Nordstrom spokesman Deniz Anders. The department store chain takes additional, internal security measures at its stores, Anders said, but "given the serious incident [Friday] night, we are again assessing our measures."

Police view the shooting as "an unusual crime for the area," said Officer Shawn Vinson, a Baltimore County police spokesman. They have no plans to increase their presence at the mall.

"We've seen thefts and robberies, but I don't think any more than other big shopping areas," Vinson said. "It's a lot of people in the same place, and any time you have a large number of people who leave their cars for several hours, the people who like to commit crimes will go there."

Yesterday, the upscale stores at the mall drew a crowd whose cars filled each of the seven decks in the parking garage where Bassett was killed.

General Growth Properties took control of the 968,000-square-foot Towson Town Center as part of its $12.6 billion acquisition of the Rouse Co. in November.

The mall was originally built as a strip shopping center in 1959 on Dulaney Valley Road between Joppa Road and Fairmount Avenue. It was enclosed in 1973, then remodeled again in 1981. A $150 million renovation in 1991 added 130 stores. Rouse purchased the mall as part of a $2.5 billion, seven-mall acquisition in 1998.

General Growth Properties owns and operates 209 shopping centers in 44 states. Among the incidents reported by police at Towson Town Center in recent years:

On Aug. 30, 2002, Kevin Taylor, 17, of Baltimore was stabbed during a fight at the mall. He died a day later.

On Oct. 22, 2003, three men, one with a knife, robbed a 20-year-old woman of $60 in a garage stairwell.

On Nov. 13, 2004, a man struck a 26-year-old woman in the face several times and stole her purse, which held $35 and credit cards, in the garage.

Last Sunday, three men stopped a shopper in the garage and asked him for a cigarette and bus fare money, and proceeded to rob him of $300. The victim was treated for minor injuries at Sinai Hospital.

Many shopping centers have installed call boxes, panic buttons and security cameras in parking garages, said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers in New York.

William Brill, an Annapolis security expert, said patrols play a key role in deterring crime at malls, and they should pass through a garage at least every 20 minutes, with flashing lights.

National statistics on crime at shopping malls are hard to come by, even though security was the focus of a summit last week in Phoenix of the International Council of Shopping Centers and the National Retail Federation.

"Shopping centers do not want to publicize crimes at their locations because ... customers could go to a different shopping center," said Richard C. Hollinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Florida who led a study in the 1990s that found that assaults at shopping centers were drastically on the rise.

At Hunt Valley's new open-air Towne Centre last week, some shoppers said they avoid Towson Town Center because of the garages. Yesterday, Conrad Poniatowski, president of the Dulaney Valley Improvement Association, said he knows of shoppers who prefer malls without garages because they feel safer when they can see farther.

"It's a shame," he said, "because it's a great mall, once you get inside."

Sun staff writers Laura Barnhardt and Jason Song contributed to this article.


A typical Friday ended in tragedy

Grieving: Faculty at St. Paul's School share memories of their colleague, who was killed at a Towson mall.

By Jonathan D. Rockoff
Sun Staff
February 21, 2005 - His last day, Friday, was typically frenetic, but William A. Bassett was characteristically unperturbed. As always, Bassett, the bow-tied dean of faculty at the prestigious St. Paul's School, moved easily from advising parents to planning science lessons and conferring with a college admissions counselor, colleagues recalled.

"I just remember him saying he had to get out to the airport," said Edward J. Brady, who worked with Bassett on the course curriculum until his fellow science teacher left to drive a guest lecturer back to the airport.

They were supposed to meet several hours later for dinner with their wives. "I figured I would see him again soon," Brady said.

As police probed Bassett's shooting death early that night at Towson Town Center mall, colleagues recalled yesterday their last, all-too-typical moments with the 58-year-old father of two, who didn't say he was going to the mall but often shopped for bargains at Nordstrom.

The friends struggled to balance their warm memories of the popular, self-effacing educator with the grim, inexplicable news of his killing.

"I'm still, probably like everyone else, in a state of utter shock," said Robert W. Hallett, St. Paul's headmaster from 1985 to 2002, and a longtime friend. "How do you explain something like this? You certainly cannot."

The chapel at St. Paul's, in Brooklandville, overflowed with more than 450 mourners attending a tearful prayer service in Bassett's memory.

'There's no sense to it'

"Just the feeling that someone so dear and so wonderful has been taken from all of us - there's no sense to it," Joan Hurley, a Spanish teacher who worked with Bassett for 11 years, said afterward.

St. Paul's, an Episcopal school with 864 students, has scheduled a viewing from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow in the chapel. On Wednesday at 2 p.m., there will be a public memorial service at Old St. Paul's Church at Charles and Saratoga streets.

Baltimore County police said yesterday that they had nothing new to report on the shooting, the second killing at the mall since 2002.

At Bassett's home in Roland Park, a woman who answered the door said his wife, Susan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University, was too distraught to talk.

"She's not up to talking right now," said the woman, who identified herself as Susan Bassett's sister.

With his wire-rimmed glasses and tweed jackets, Bassett evoked a professorial air but was far from the aloof intellectual stereotype.

He was a record-setting runner at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he studied zoology. He kept up with running and later became an avid collector of antiques.

After teaching at a private school in Jacksonville, Fla., Bassett wanted to move closer to his family in the Philadelphia area. He taught in Severna Park and then worked for 31 years at St. Paul's, including a four-year stint as principal of the upper school.

As dean of faculty, Bassett's duties included hiring and teacher training. But colleagues said he did more than that, warmly welcoming new hires with a cocktail, then serving as a confidant for issues professional and personal.

When Jim Miller considered adopting a child three years ago, "Bill was the first person I went to for advice," the English teacher recalled. Bassett adopted his son, Graham, a college junior, and daughter, Julia, a high school senior, from El Salvador.

Miller and other teachers recalled Bassett sharing paint samples so they could pick the right shade to color their houses.

"He knew the particulars of my life - what classes I was taking, what the status of my relationship was. He always asked," said David Metcalf, a history teacher who also works in the admissions office.

At the mall in Towson, a man was fatally stabbed in a parking lot three years ago. In recent months, there have been at least two robberies at the mall.

Police said Bassett was found dead about 8 p.m. Friday on the fifth floor of the garage on the mall's south side, near the entrance to Nordstrom. His car was parked nearby.

While Bassett didn't tell any of the 10 friends and colleagues who were interviewed yesterday of his plans to visit the mall that night, none expressed surprise that the natty dresser and inveterate bargain hunter would stop there.

"That was a regular stop - Nordstrom's Rack," said Tom Reid, the headmaster of St. Paul's, who called Bassett's death a "great loss."

The day was a busy one for Bassett, especially because teachers were receiving in-service training that he had organized, colleagues said. At 7:15 a.m., he counseled a student and parents. Later, he kicked off the teacher training with introductory remarks.

Brady, the science department chairman who, like Bassett, taught an advanced course in environmental science, recalled meeting with him several times throughout the day as they merged lesson plans for a course curriculum that other teachers could use.

At 11 a.m., Bassett, who counseled about 20 students about college, left to take a call from a University of Pennsylvania admissions officer, Brady said.

That afternoon in the hallway near their offices, Brady saw Bassett, who said he was going to take the guest lecturer from California to the airport. "He still didn't seem frazzled," Brady said.

John Thorpe, principal of the upper school, said he and Bassett attended a morning talk that the guest lecturer gave to mathematics and science instructors on tailoring teaching to the various ways that students learn.

In the afternoon, Bassett picked up Thorpe's daughter from baby-sitting and dropped her off at Thorpe's house because Thorpe had several meetings to attend.

"He was exactly the same as he always is," recalled Thorpe, who said Bassett was upbeat, unflappable and selfless.

Bassett and Thorpe had been close friends since they roomed together three decades ago in London, where they were both teaching. Bassett later recruited Thorpe to St. Paul's.

Remembered kindness

Thorpe said Bassett and his wife let him live rent-free in their house so he could save money to buy a house of his own. Thorpe said the Bassetts often took in prospective teachers visiting for interviews, rather than having them stay at a hotel.

"It was such an unlikely thing, and Bill was such an unlikely person to be involved in a shooting," Thorpe said.

"It's so unlikely," he added, "it's almost as if somebody's going to wake me up, and I will find out it was a dream, and it's not true."


Teens unlikely suspects, those who know them say

Pair played basketball and video games, had no criminal record as adults

By Jennifer McMenamin and Jonathan D. Rockoff
Sun Staff
February 22, 2005 - The two teens charged in the killing of a St. Paul's School dean at Towson Town Center lived in working-class communities in Essex and Middle River, where they played basketball and video games.

Neither John Edward Kennedy Jr. nor Javon Clark, according to friends and relatives, had been caught up in the kind of violence with which the two 18-year-old high school graduates have been charged.

"I didn't think he'd ever do something like that," said Corey Crawley, 16, a friend who shot hoops, played video games and went to the movies with Kennedy. "You got a wrong man."

Kennedy and Clark were each charged with first-degree murder in the death of William A. Bassett, a science teacher and dean at the prestigious private school in Brooklandville.

Neither suspect has an adult criminal record, and police would not say whether they had juvenile records.

Junious Kennedy, 70, said in an interview in his West Baltimore home that he was not close with his grandson and had not heard about the arrest. He described him as "quiet," and said, "I thought he wouldn't do something like that."

Neighbors said John Kennedy lives with his mother, stepfather and two sisters in a two-story townhouse near the end of South Marlyn Avenue in Essex.

A neighbor who refused to identify himself said he had recently seen someone with a shotgun at the Kennedy home.

Crawley said he and Kennedy attended Chesapeake High and often talked about girls, rap music and clothes.

Neighbors on Old Knife Court in Middle River said Clark lived in the two-story townhouse with his brother and two friends. The young men didn't cause trouble - aside from occasionally playing music too loud, neighbors said.

One said the Clark brothers drove an old Mercury Cougar. A witness jotted down the license plate of a mid-1980s Cougar that caught his eye Friday night at the mall and contacted police.

Tony Baublitz, 17, used to live across the street from Clark and graduated from the same school, Kenwood High.

"He was a pretty nice kid," Baublitz said. Told that Clark had been charged in the shooting, he added, "He didn't look like that kind of person."

 

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