County police have increased patrols around Blair's perimeter following a female student's report that she was assaulted by a homeless man just outside school grounds. The student, sophomore Sally Haskell, was not hurt in the Feb 13 incident.
Haskell said an unkempt, drunken-looking man shouting obscenities approached her and shoved her to the ground as she walked south on Colesville Road towards Blair at around 2:45 p.m.
Haskell was walking to JV basketball practice when the man crossed her path on the sidewalk just off of Blair property. "He was yelling and screaming and throwing his arms everywhere," she said. Then, "he started running back and forth towards me, and he just shoved me and yelled, ‘Stupid [expletive]!'"
The incident remains under investigation, according to police. Officers met with Haskell following the incident and identified a suspect based on her description. Haskell did not make a positive identification of the man, but she still believes he was her assailant.
The suspect police identified, a homeless man who frequents Four Corners, was jailed about three weeks ago on a charge of destruction of property near the Shell Station on University Blvd. Shortly before that arrest, the man had been charged with assault, according to Sergeant Robert Moser, who added that the two charges are not the first to be brought against the man. "It's something that he does when he's intoxicated and off his medication," Moser said.
Moser could not say whether the man remains in jail. Haskell believes her assailant is at large, as she said several of her friends have spotted the man loitering around Four Corners. According to Moser, the suspect can be identified by a tattoo of a butterfly he bears on his forehead. Moser said that tattoo is new and that the suspect formerly sported a swastika.
Following the Feb 13 incident, county police officers combed the area and "disabled" the shared camp site of four or five area homeless, forcing the transients to pack their belongings and vacate the camp. Officers also temporarily stepped up patrols of Blair's perimeter at security team leader Edward Reddick's request. Reddick called police after Haskell reported the incident to him just after it occurred that afternoon.
The intensified police check-ups will last at least through this week, according to Moser, who said officers are working with Blair security to prevent any homeless people from trespassing on school property. This measure is likely purely preventative. According to Reddick, no homeless people have caused a disturbance on Blair's grounds since the new building was built, although some have trespassed. The first instance of trespassing on Blair grounds occurred on Feb 21, according to Reddick, who said the trespassers were non-threatening.
Police believe that there are six "perpetually homeless" people living in several public areas of Four Corners. These locations include the wooded area behind the YMCA, the grassy areas on the sides of and around the Beltway and the back lot of Woodmoor Shopping Center.
Officer Joy Patil, Montgomery County's community policing coordinator, expects that although at least four homeless people were removed shortly after the February incident, the displacement will not be permanent. "This is the area they know, so they're probably going to return," she said.
Haskell is not the only student who claims to have had a frightening encounter with a local homeless person. Her friend, sophomore Whitney Hamer, said that in late November she was chased through her neighborhood by an unfamiliar man she now believes is the same man who assaulted Haskell three months later.
In Four Corners, the dislodgment of the homeless population by police is a routine occurrence, according to Patil, who explained that the Four Corners homeless population is steady in number because police are ineffective at making their removals permanent. Instead, officers routinely "roust out" trespassers in police sweeps prompted by citizen reports of homelessness only to find that, months later, the homeless have returned. "We don't take them anywhere—we just tell them that they can't sleep where they're sleeping. The problem isn't getting solved," Patil said.
According to police and Blair security, the current local homeless population may be the vestiges of a larger group that inhabited Blair's lot before the University Blvd building was constructed in 1998. When Blair came, however, the homeless who had inhabited what once was a wooded space were forced to move. "They've been displaced because of Blair, and that's why I think they've moved to behind the Beltway," said Patil.
Janelle Haskell, Sally's mother, attended a Feb 26 PTSA meeting at Blair to speak about her daughter's experience and warn parents of a possible threat.
Although Haskell is not worried about the entire Blair-area homeless population, she does fear a repeat encounter with her assailant. "I'm scared that he might do it again," said Haskell, who has not walked to school alone since the incident.
PTSA co-President Marilyn Shoenfeld plans to advocate "constant vigilance" on the part of the entire Blair district to prevent a future assault.
Elizabeth Green. Elizabeth Green is seventeen years old. She is also happy to take on the position of editor-in-chief of Chips this, her senior, year. In fact, she has so enjoyed her forays in high school journalism that she is thinking about pursuing a career in the … More »