Last week’s death of Marckel Norman Ross, a junior at Central High, has rocked Prince George’s, renewing fears about the sometimes-dangerous walks children who attend school in the county’s inner-Beltway communities have to take to get an education.
Even before classes began, county school officials sent a letter to parents asking that they encourage their children to walk in groups, stay aware of their surroundings and tell an adult if they see anything suspicious. Since Ross’s slaying on Sept. 11, police have ramped up patrols near Central High.
Police have said they have leads in Ross’s killing, but no suspects. Violent incidents involving students heading to and from school remain rare, they said.
“We’ve never had anything like this before,” said Maj. George Nader of the county police department.
Still, the walk that students in parts of the county face, up to two miles for some, forces them to navigate areas that are not always safe. In a two-mile radius around Central High, police said, there have been 84 street robberies, seven homicides and nine rapes so far this year, though they note that most of those crimes occurred at night and did not involve students. In another higher-crime area, a two-mile radius around Suitland High School, police have recorded eight homicides, 13 rapes and 136 citizen robberies in 2012.
Overall, crime in the county is down by 7.6 percent, fueled by a 5.2 percent drop in violent crime and an 8 percent drop in property crime over the same period last year.
But many parents are on edge because Ross is the second Prince George’s high school student killed this school year. Amber Stanley, 17, a senior at Charles H. Flowers High School, was slain in her bedroom at her family’s Kettering home Aug. 22. Police have said they do not think the crimes are linked.
During a back-to-school meeting last week at Central High, police sought to reassure parents, saying they would add patrols during students’ morning and afternoon commutes and will continue to work closely with school security.
The response is similar to those taken in other U.S. cities plagued by violence.
Nearly a decade ago, Camden city and school officials implemented a Safe Corridors/Safe Havens plan for students who walk through crime-ridden areas to get to school. Under the plan, police ramped up patrols and gave out maps designating safe routes to each city school. Havens, such as businesses, firehouses and volunteer homes, were identified along the routes.
Samuel Redd, the executive director of Operation PULSE (People United to Live in a Safe Environment), a faith-based program in East Baltimore, said that area also has a safe-haven program, where churches are open along students’ walk to school. Volunteers offer assistance to children who find themselves in need.