Until recently, the biggest problem that faced residents of the tranquil Camelot subdivision in Pomfret was an invasion of hungry deer.
"They eat all the hosta plants," said Clyde Hooks, 64, a retiree who lives on Lancelot Way. "I had 17 of them out back, and the deer ate them all."
The pristine quiet of this small neighborhood tucked amid the trees of northwestern Charles County was disturbed last week by a burglary that led to the deaths of two people. Three Washington-area teenagers are expected to be charged with first-degree murder.
"The more people that move to this area, the more crimes there are going to be," said Richard Weeks, 58, a retiree who lives on Arthurs Court. "You have to be more observant now."
The chain of events that has residents of some rural neighborhoods rethinking their assumptions about crime and public safety started Tuesday night, authorities said, when several teenagers tried to steal a Kawasaki motorcycle and a Yamaha all-terrain vehicle from the garage of Jeff Coombs, 42, who works at Andrews Air Force Base with the D.C. Air National Guard. When Coombs arrived home late Tuesday, he found the vehicles stashed in the woods next to his garage.
He put them back inside the garage and nailed the door shut. But the youths returned about midnight, he said, then came back again Wednesday morning while his teenage son was asleep in the house.
"They tried to knock the door out, but I'd nailed it. Then they broke the glass in," he said. "When they showed up in the middle of the day to finish the job, that was unsettling."
The youths eventually fled in two vans that had been stolen elsewhere, one of which crashed head-on into an oncoming car while eastbound on Hawthorne Road near La Plata, authorities said.
Cynthia Chester, 50, a former schoolteacher from Indian Head, was killed in the crash. One of the youths also died -- Anthony Wade, 15, of Southeast Washington, a passenger in the van.
Charles County authorities said three teenagers will be charged as adults with first-degree murder. They are Tavon Spencer, 16, and his brother Ray Kenneth Spencer, 14, both of Northeast Washington, who authorities say left the scene in a stolen vehicle, and Alton Lee Peele-Howard, 16, of Suitland, the driver of the van that struck Chester.
Two other youths escaped in the District and had not been located as of Friday, authorities said.
In Camelot, the botched burglary and crash were seen by some as part of a trend of increasing violence in Charles County -- something that some of the residents came to the area to avoid. Hooks said he moved from Clinton more than 20 years ago in search of a quieter, more peaceful residence.
"Now this area is getting too built up, I don't know where I'm going to go now," he said.
Law enforcement officials said they did not know why the suspects targeted the Coombs house. But authorities said crimes committed by people from outside the county are increasing. Capt. Joseph C. Montminy of the Charles County Sheriff's Office said officers have made a number of recent arrests for stolen vehicles in which the suspects are often juveniles from jurisdictions to the north.
"P.G. County, Southeast [Washington] seem to be pretty popular for those types of crimes," Montminy said. "We see those people down here, and we have made some arrests."
The number of youths processed in the juvenile court system in Charles rose 20 percent in the first 10 months of last year compared with the same period in 2002, according to state records. Juveniles charged with auto theft in the county increased by 60 percent last year.
Sheriff Frederick E. Davis said that nearly 40 percent of the inmate population in the Charles County Detention Center is made up of people who live outside the county.
"That [figure] has steadily increased over the last four or five years," he said. "A lot of the people that we arrest are from the southwestern part of Prince George's County. . . . We have areas down here I guess they think they can get down and get back out quick enough. They don't understand that this county can be blocked very quickly."
In Camelot, where American flags flutter from the porches and brick houses with columns preside over manicured lawns, the residents said at week's end that they hoped the crime trend did not continue. They said people watch out for one another in their neighborhood, and they'll be watching more closely in the future.
"This is a real shame," Weeks said. "It has been very quiet here. That's what I liked about it. I hope this doesn't happen again."