A young fiance, pricing rings yesterday at W. Bell & Co., turned to her beau and said, "Did you hear what happened last night at the Grand Union?"
Just 1 1/2 miles down New Hampshire Avenue a cashier at the Hillandale Grand Union muttered, "Up at Bell, the cops said they were gonna have to take paw prints because they were such animals."
In between these two places, at the gas stations, beauty parlors, hardware stores and supermarkets that sprawl along this stretch of eastern Silver Spring, the people who buy and sell the wares of suburban life struggled to come to grips with not just the violence of a bloody Friday, but the frighteningly gratuitous note with which it struck.
"You can't even do what they tell you anymore. They still shoot you," complained one clerk who worked in the Grand Union where manager Robert Lamp was shot to death after complying with two robbers' demands for cash.
In the space of a day, three men, including a Montgomery County police officer, were killed in cold blood 1 1/2 miles apart off New Hampshire Avenue. In the space of a week, store managers at two supermarkets in the Hillandale shopping center were shot -- after they had given robbers the money in the store. During the last month two other businesses in the area were robbed.
"Shootings are happening more and more between strangers nationwide," said Montgomery County police spokesman Nancy Moses. "Now Montgomery seems to be part of that trend."
At the Silver Spring police station yesterday the flag was flown at half staff, and black bunting had been draped over the doorway for Officer Philip Metz, 33, who was killed along with security guard David Wayne Myers when they surprised early morning burglars inside W. Bell & Co. at 11130 New Hampshire.
A team of 10 detectives has been tracking the leads in the case. "Even officers who are off duty and on vacation are volunteering to help," said Lt. Jimmy Lee. "I've been a cop for 20 years and I can't remember as much happening in so short a span of time."
Metz's parents were received yesterday by Montgomery Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke. Their son will be buried Monday at Gate of Heaven cemetery in Wheaton. A third man injured in the incident, Bell manager Douglas Cummins Jr., had been admitted to Suburban Hospital. A Bell spokesman said Cummins was still in intensive care, but had been taken off the critical list.
The rash of burglaries and robberies along this suburban corridor took a cold-blooded turn a week ago Saturday when two robbers escorted several employes at the Hillandale Safeway into the dairy freezer. When the manager walked into the store a few minutes later, one of the robbers ordered him into the front office, where he directed the manager to open the safe and hand over the money. The manager complied, but it did him no good. The robber shot him in the shoulder.
Then, early Friday morning, Metz and Myers were killed and Cummins wounded as they investigated a burglar alarm that had sounded at Bell. The burglars entered through the roof. Police are still looking for two black men who had driven off in a small, dark-colored car, possibly a Honda.
Fourteen hours later and 1 1/2 miles down the avenue, two robbers held up the Grand Union. They took money from a cashier, a customer, and about $1,500 from the store manager, whom they ordered to lie on the floor off the store's office and then shot in the head in what some officers described as an execution-style slaying.
Detectives from Wheaton who are handling the case do not believe there is a connection between the incidents, although they haven't ruled out the possibility of a link between the two supermarket robberies. A provocation for the shooting has not been established and detectives are not even sure whether the thieves fled on foot or by car.
"I knew [Lamp]. That man was so helpful, he had a little girl, 2 1/2, there was no need to kill him. They are animals," said a shopper from West Hillandale. "I have a big shepherd in the house. I don't feel secure unless he's there."
At the Zayre department store, which is between the Safeway and Grand Union in the Hillandale shopping center, manager Jesse Thomas said he was taking "every precaution possible" to keep from being robbed. "In the morning, I ride around the parking lot looking at people waiting in cars," said Thomas. "Then I wait for the cleaning crew and we all go in together."
At the nearby People's Drug Store, manager Kenneth Lee said he was dismayed by the shootings. "It's always on your mind," he said.
About a mile away on New Hampshire Avenue, inside the W. Bell & Co. Store, customers were talking about the shootings. Frank Ray, a 20-year resident of the Northwood Park area, strolled up to a Bell employe, I Rosenberg, and said: "I was afraid it was you they got yesterday."
Rosenberg smiled weakly.
"Twenty years and I've never seen a week like this past one," Ray said. "Has it affected business?"
Rosenberg said it hadn't affected business.
"I don't mean to be cynical but boy what a comedy of errors," Ray said. "The police department checks all the doors, it never occurs to them to check the roof."
"Values have changed," he continued. It's getting worse and worse. People are getting more and more frightened. I don't let my wife open the door unless she can see who it is."
Outside the store, two teen-aged boys handed fliers to customers advertising "gun control" T-shirts. The shirts were designed by their father, Daniel McNeill, who sat in a blue Volkswagen in the parking lot.
McNeill, who designed the shirts because of John Lennon's slaying, said his sons were giving the fliers to customers of W. Bell & Co. "because of what happened here yesterday. These people in this area, it's fresh on their minds."
McNeill, who lives in Landover said he planned to "hit the Grand Union" with his fliers on his way home.