- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Two St. Mary’s mothers awaiting the results from an inquiry into an incident two months ago in Wildewood, where they say their teenage sons were accosted at gunpoint, came forward this week to publicly express their fears after Friday’s massacre at a school in Connecticut.
St. Mary’s County’s state’s attorney said Monday that a Wildewood resident was lawfully protecting his family and property during the nighttime confrontation, and that no charges will be filed in the matter. The Wildewood resident could not be reached this week for comment.
Cindy Slattery and Laura Joyce said the response to Slattery’s son’s stepping off a lane as he tried to find his way to Joyce’s home, and the reception Joyce’s son received as he walked up and stood in the roadway, made them fearful for their sons’ safety. The news that 20 elementary school children had lost their lives Friday to gunfire in Connecticut triggered thoughts that their own children also had been in mortal danger at 11:30 p.m. on the night of Oct. 20.
“That’s obviously very different,” Joyce acknowledged Monday while comparing the two incidents, and she said her son’s experience was closer to the circumstances of a fatal shooting earlier this year in Florida involving a teenager and an armed resident in a neighborhood.
“I just think it’s a fair question,” Slattery said. “Is that how we want to handle these situations in St. Mary’s County?”
By the two mothers’ accounts, Slattery’s 17-year-old son walked through a clearing between homes to get to the back deck of Joyce’s home, traveling on ground they consider to be a “common area” in the community. They said that the resident with the handgun questioned Slattery’s son, before the teenager was forced to lie on the ground until police arrived. According to Joyce, her 17-year-old son responded when he heard the other boy offering his pleading explanation for his presence, and also was confronted with the gun while standing by mailboxes on the street.
St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz said Monday morning at the county courthouse that a property owner has a right to take sufficient action to detain someone coming on that property until police arrive.
“A person on their own property has the right to carry a handgun,” Fritz said. “They certainly have a right to act to protect their property and their family, [although] not to the extent of causing physical injury.”
During that time period, the prosecutor said, there had been numerous break-ins to cars in the Wildewood community, incidents of vandalism and reports of possible home burglaries.
“We need to place this in context. This [confrontation] was in the dead of night,” Fritz said, and the one teenager had intruded on the armed resident’s property, “or so close to it that it doesn’t make any difference, in the middle of the night. It’s lucky nothing else happened.”
Joyce, the executive director of the Southern Maryland Center for Family Advocacy, said the reported crimes in her community in October did not require the display of a firearm.
“I don’t think it’s true that everybody is hypersensitive in Wildewood,” she said. “That means you lock your car. If I hear a noise, I call the police.”
Slattery, who works as a secretary at the courthouse, said her son was just trying to walk to his friend’s home.
More than anything, the two women said, they want to start a conversation on what is best way to make their neighborhood safe, for everyone.
“If someone gets killed,” Slattery said, “people pay attention. I hope we don’t have to get to that place.”