In Bethesda homicide case, concern shifts from street crime to workplace violence
In one sense, the dramatic turnaround in the Bethesda yoga clothing store homicide case Friday brought enormous relief to a community that prides itself on offering both vibrant, urban street life and a secure, suburban atmosphere.
Now it appears there was no need to worry that two brutal criminals were at large after beating and raping two women - the one who was killed and a co-worker - just steps away from crowds of shoppers and diners March 11. Police say the co-worker was the killer, that the rapes didn't happen and that she made up the story of two masked male intruders.
"People can breathe again and feel their community is safe, as it has been for decades," said Montgomery County Council Vice President Roger Berliner (D), whose district includes Bethesda.
However, for many residents the police chief's new explanation was just as disturbing as the old one - and perhaps even more so. They were shocked by the reminder that people can be at risk in their workplace, even an individual like victim Jayna T. Murray, 30, who was universally described as a warm, energetic personality.
"That's even sicker than what they first thought. To think that you had been working alongside someone and had that happen," said Barbara Newhouse of Bethesda, who spoke to me outside the Lululemon Athletica store where the killing happened.
"It's scary on a whole new level. It's sad on a whole new level," said Glenda Nelson of Rockville, who became friends with Murray after they met in a Johns Hopkins University communications class.
"It tells us something about what's going on in society," Nelson said. "It's almost easier to be afraid of the boogeyman."
So, assuming the police are correct, the lesson from the Lululemon case is still that you're not safe. Only the nature of the threat has changed.
In fact, the historical record tends to support concern about workplace violence. A disgruntled worker at Suburban Hospital has been charged with killing his boss on New Year's Day in the only other homicide in Bethesda this year. The last slaying in the downtown district, in 1989, occurred when an employee killed colleagues in a bank office.
It's been fascinating watching Bethesda respond to the Lululemon killing. I know Bethesda well. I was raised there and live there now. From my youth, I remember blocks of seedy repair shops and an ugly concrete plant, now transformed into a lively commercial area with 185 restaurants, 510 retailers and new upscale condos.
The Lululemon case initially aroused so much anxiety in part because it might confirm Bethesda's biggest fear, that its gradual urbanization would inevitably be accompanied by a rise in crime.
Although the heavy foot traffic along tree-lined streets is a plus for businesses and residents alike, it also risks attracting a bad element. The combination of Metro access (on the Red Line), luxury stores and crowds of well-heeled patrons could make the area a target for criminals.