Walnut Towers residents fear for their safety

September 10, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

Hagerstown police and housing officials Monday tried to reassure Walnut Towers residents they are working to stop a recent outbreak of violent crime at the public housing complex.

But some of the 60 residents who attended a tenants meeting said they don't think authorities are working fast enough.

"I am afraid. I do not feel secure," said Virginia Unseld, 90. "It's up to you all to do something about that situation."

Residents who spoke at the meeting of the Walnut Towers Tenants Association blamed the problem on one or two residents who have been letting vagrants and drunks into the building.


Hagerstown Housing Authority Security Director Rhonda Will said no one can be evicted without documented evidence. Even then, residents have the right to due process, which takes time, she said.

"What about our rights. The people who live here?" asked Jearl Clavette, 60.

The problem came to a head last week when a woman was robbed of her purse and the 84-year-old man who came to her aid was stabbed.

According to court records, the man who was charged with the crime was let into the building by a resident.

Estella Summersill, 70, said the incident prompted her to start carrying pepper spray for the first time in her life.

Unseld, a 30-year resident of Walnut Towers, said she would like to move but she suffers from congestive heart failure and other ailments that would make that difficult.

"My heart cannot take much more of this," she said.

Althea Michael, 74, suggested the housing authority hire a temporary security guard to staff the front door and check in all visitors.

Will promised to look into that idea, as well as the possibility of paying a police officer to work overtime conducting safety checks.

The Hagerstown City Police Department has stepped up patrols in the area, said Lt. Jack Hall.

Meanwhile, Hall urged residents to report any suspicious activity. If residents see someone who doesn't belong, they should call police or the housing authority, he said.

"If they don't have reason to be here, we'll throw them out," he said.

Walnut Towers is close to railroad property that has attracted homeless people. Hall warned residents that some of the vagrants might try to befriend them in order to take advantage, he said.

Hagerstown City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said he is concerned about the problem.

"You're going to have to be patient. Bear with us just a little bit. But in the meantime, for God's sake, take care of each other," Hendershot said.

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