Police said they arrested one suspect tonight and obtained warrants for three more in the grisly slayings of five women in a neighborhood long considered a haven from the city's ills.

Investigators said they believe the house where the slayings occurred was used for drug activity. Police Agent Ragina Cooper quoted Col. John Gavrilis, head of the criminal investigations bureau, as saying he believed the killings may have been intended to send a message: "Don't mess with us."

Cooper said Gavrilis told a news conference that police don't think the slain women were involved in drug dealing.

The women were identified today as Trennell Alston, 26, Mary Collien, 54, Makisha J. Jenkins, 18, Mary E. McNeil, 39, and Levanna Spearman, 23. All were found inside the two-story row house--one in the kitchen and four in the basement--with gunshots to the head and other parts of the body.

Arrested tonight was Ismail Makil Wilson, 27. Police said that he was charged with five counts of first-degree murder and that the same charges are contained in warrants for the arrest of Robert Bryant, 23, Tariq A. Maliq, 20, and Tavon McCoy, 21. All are Baltimore residents.

Outside the house today, there was no evidence that one of the city's deadliest shooting rampages had taken place. A festive velvet ribbon decorated the front door, and colorful plastic benches, meant for small children, leaned up against the white iron latticework that framed the front porch.

Residents on the 3500 block of Elmley Avenue who came out of their houses today to a cluster of television trucks were still bewildered that so much carnage had visited their tidy street of yellow brick houses.

"The magnitude of this, I tell you, it's hard to swallow," said Lynn Wolf, 52, who lives across the street from the site of the slayings. "This is a very quiet street. Always has been."

John Avery, 17, said his family moved to Elmley Avenue seven years ago, hoping to enjoy green lawns and trimmed hedges in place of the graffiti and violence that were commonplace just a few miles south, in the heart of East Baltimore.

"That kind of stuff just wasn't going on on this block," he said. "This whole thing is surprising."

Some residents of the street said this weekend's shooting undoubtedly will test their fortitude for city life. The safety of Baltimore's streets was a consuming issue during the recent mayoral election campaign. And it continues to draw wide public attention as the city faces the grim prospect of a 10th straight year with more than 300 homicides. The toll now stands at 287.

Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley, who will be inaugurated Tuesday, won over voters with the promise of "zero tolerance" for crime, a controversial style of get-tough policing that many residents said they were ready to accept if it meant safer streets.

O'Malley (D) said today that these slayings only "heightened the sense of urgency" to appoint a new police commissioner and implement his crime-fighting initiatives.

After 27 years on her street of row houses, Betty Brannan said she, for one, will not budge from her commitment to remain a resident of Baltimore.

She said the events of this weekend have left her rattled, but not enough to overcome the friendships she has made with her neighbors and the memories of the block where her children were raised.

"I'll probably be on the last bus out of the city," Brannan said.

Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.

CAPTION: A police lab technician walks out of the northeast Baltimore row house where the bodies of five slain women were found Sunday.