After 17-year-old dies in shooting, businesses fear consequences of crime in downtown Towson

This week’s fatal shooting of a teenager and a recent spate of other violent incidents in downtown Towson have spurred concern among residents and workers about their safety and worries about the possible impact on area businesses.

Tre’shaun Harmon, 17, died after he was shot multiple times at about 7:15 p.m. Monday near Joppa Road and Delaware Avenue, right outside Towson Square, which hosts the Cinemark movie theater, police said. Harmon was a student at Northeast Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis High School, said Baltimore City Schools spokesperson Sherry Christian.

Loved ones said in an Instagram post that they will hold a balloon release in his memory at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at North Harford Park in Baltimore’s Hamilton Hills neighborhood.

“A 17-year-old whose life has been cut tragically short because of some idiot, we should all mourn that as a society,” said Baltimore County Councilman Mike Ertel, a Democrat who represents Towson. “It all lends to the picture that Towson is not a safe place to bring your family.”

Over the last three weeks, a nonfatal shooting, a stabbing and a rape at gunpoint, all in the downtown Towson area, have put some residents and workers on edge.

Mark Formwalt, managing partner of On the Border, said lately, fewer customers come in late at night to his Towson Square restaurant, located a block from Monday’s shooting.

“It’s gotten deadlier in the past couple weeks,” he said, compared to previous “petty crime” by bored kids.

Formwalt said the recent turn to “gunplay” has scared him, but he blames the community for failing to provide safe activities for young people.

“I feel horrible for them because there’s really nothing for kids to do,” he said.

Adam Gondal, part-owner of the Exxon on Joppa Road, a block away from where Monday’s shooting took place, said perceptions of crime have slowed his business on Friday and Saturday nights.

Gondal said large groups of teenagers come to the gas station after leaving the movie theater or nearby Towson Town Center, a mall that has a curfew for unaccompanied minors. He said groups of young people sometimes steal items or throw things that knock out the lights on his LED price sign.

Earlier this year, police said they arrested eight people after a “large and unruly crowd” caused property damage near the Towson Town Center.

“I have no solutions to this problem,” Gondal said.

Harmon’s death occurred about a week after a man in a vehicle was injured in a Feb. 12 shooting. Officers near West Towsontown Boulevard and Washington Avenue that evening heard multiple gunshots and saw the man’s vehicle crash, according to a news release.

Authorities said the shooting took place at Washington Avenue and Chesapeake Avenue, near several county government buildings and a post office and a block away from the new Towson Row development and its Whole Foods grocery store. The injured man was later charged with firearms-related offenses, police said.

During the same weekend, Baltimore County Police responded to the unit block of East Chesapeake Avenue, just off York Road, at 1:50 a.m. on Feb. 12 for a victim suffering “from apparent trauma to the upper body” following an assault, police said in a news release. Police department spokesperson Joy Stewart said the victim was stabbed.

Earlier this month, three women were robbed and raped at gunpoint behind THB Bagelry on Alleghany Avenue, close to the traffic circle, on Feb. 2.

Police arrested 28-year-old Quantze Davis on Feb. 5 on multiple counts of first-degree rape, along with robbery, assault and weapons charges. Investigators identified Davis after seeing a man fitting the victims’ description of their attacker on surveillance footage and matching it to his Apple Pay account.

The women were walking to meet friends at Banditos, a nearby bar, when Davis brandished a handgun at them and demanded cash before raping them, police wrote in charging documents.

Baltimore County NAACP Vice President Roland Patterson said the recent violence in Towson is linked to drug organizations operating in Baltimore City, as gangs look to recruit young people across the county line.

“The city and the county have failed to identify what we’re dealing with: drug, gang activity,” Patterson said. “Until we break this chain of distribution, we’re going to have this problem.”

Dee Mazerski has worked at Jake’s New York Deli on Washington Avenue for nine years and said she’s recently become scared to walk to work in the morning. Mazerski said the deli recently began closing at 3 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. so staff could leave before dark.

Other bar and restaurant workers in the area said recent events haven’t scared them, but they remain vigilant.

Will Hoyem, shift lead at World of Beer in Towson Square, said that as a military veteran he was used to paying attention to his surroundings. In the last year, the bar has implemented a buddy system to protect workers leaving late at night with cash tips, he said.

“We’ve had some very terrible incidents over the last three weeks,” Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Hafford said. “I’ve been doing this job for 17 years and it seems that we have a little tick sometimes in the end of January, into February.”

Hafford said the Chamber of Commerce recently used money from a state grant to add surveillance cameras to Towson businesses and finished installing 50 extra cameras by the end of December. Now 95% of Towson street fronts are covered by video cameras, she said.

At a news conference Wednesday evening, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said the county is pursuing grants for a new license plate reader and adding additional cameras in the downtown area in response to recent incidents. The Chamber of Commerce is also exploring funding for extra security officers, he said.

Baltimore County’s interim police chief, Dennis Delp, said the police department would add foot patrols and potentially bicycle patrols.

”Overall Towson is a safe place to come to visit,” Delp said. “We have had some recent incidents of crime, so we are obviously pivoting and making sure we are using technology.”

Overall crime did not increase significantly in the Towson precinct in 2022 compared to 2019, the most recent non-pandemic year, according to numbers provided by the Baltimore County Police.

“Crimes against persons” increased, mostly due to a 21% increase in simple assaults, but aggravated assaults declined 13% in Towson. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, the most recent precinct-level data available for 2023, there were 162 simple assaults and 18 aggravated assaults, which either resulted in serious injuries or involved weapons.

Robberies declined by 13% in Towson between 2019 and 2022, with 10 robberies reported in Towson before Feb. 14 this year.

There were five homicides in Towson in 2022, compared to four in 2019. Precinct data up to Feb. 14 this year listed no homicides in Towson, but that misses the shooting of Harmon.

Property crimes, including thefts and shoplifting, went down, with burglaries decreasing 62% from 2019 to 2022 in Towson.

Ertel said in recent days, residents have been calling and emailing him to express concerns about crime in Towson.

While he frequently hears from older residents who miss the more sleepy Towson of the 1960s, Ertel recently has heard fears expressed by young people like his 21-year-old daughter, who he said is afraid to walk to her car at night.

“We’ve got business owners talking about how this is getting to the point of maybe it’s time to leave Towson,” Ertel said

Towson University sent an email to students and staff Wednesday in response to a “series of off-campus public safety incidents.” The university wrote that its Office of Public Safety has 40 sworn police officers and since last year has invested $375,000 to pay for two county officers to patrol downtown overnight every day of the week.

“Post-COVID business was already hurting because nobody’s in the offices around here,” said Nick Zahirsky, general manager of the Charles Village Pub in Towson.

Zahirksy said it was too early to tell if recent shootings would hurt business, but he would be watching to see if Towson University students were dissuaded from patronizing bars this coming weekend.

“I don’t think we need to panic,” said Formwalt of On the Border. “I just think it’s sad that it’s kids. I think we have let down our kids by not doing something.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Lilly Price contributed to this article.