Now that Carlesha Freeland-Gaither has returned to a family and city’s loving embrace, residents of Germantown’s Penn-Knox section are rediscovering a sense of normalcy.
Gone are the missing posters and national-news satellite trucks. Left behind are relieved neighbors.
Locals find themselves juggling the pride of having banded together in support of one of their own with a lingering fear that what happened to Carlesha — a seemingly random abduction not far from their homes — could have happened to anyone.
“That’s going to be the delayed reaction: That it could have been any of us,” said longtime Penn-Knox resident Julie Baranauskas.
“The first thing someone said to me during a [recent] conversation was ‘Do you think it was really random?'” she continued. “It’s gone from relief that Carlesha is home to ‘Do you think we’re still in danger?'”
Police presence and relief
That natural reaction comes in the wake of a very local crime that drew national coverage and international concern.
Cindy Bass, whose eighth councilmanic district includes Germantown, said after a Thursday committee hearing at City Hall that she was “ecstatic” Carlesha was found alive one day earlier.
Bass had spoken to Carlesha’s mother Keisha when the outcome remained uncertain. It hit her personally, she said.
“As the mother of a young girl, my heart went out to the family. We’re just really glad that she’s back home with them,” said Bass. “It’s every mother’s worst nightmare, to see her daughter attacked and snatched off the street like that.”
She lauded the work of the 14th Police District, Northwest Detective Division, FBI and “anyone in law enforcement with ties to the investigation.”
The plaudits not only came for breaking the case, but for keeping Penn-Knox residents and officials with nearby Germantown Friends and Greene Street Friends schools in the proverbial loop.
Bass shared a desire to keep an increased police presence in and around the abduction scene “not just temporarily” to help soothe those, and other, concerns.
With an active civic-communication spirit, the neighborhood had made those desires known to 14th District Police Capt. John Fleming before the abduction.
Fleming said that, in addition to quality-of-life issues like broken windows that warranted a NewsWorks story last month, he and 39th District Lt. Michael Craighead fielded complaints about drug activity and the like in Penn-Knox.
While not revealing deployment specifics, he said the pair utilized the department’s Compstat data, “looked at the numbers and sent more personnel out to try and eradicate the problems that have crept into lower Germantown.”
“It’s something we’re certainly aware of and trying to combat together,” said Fleming, noting that the district shares a border with the 39th not far from W. Coulter and Greene streets. “If I spike up my deployment, [Craighead] needs to be aware, because it’s not about pushing problems from one side of the street to the other.”
In regards to any public fears about safety, Fleming noted that “stranger abductions,” and the requisite national-coverage onslaught, are rarities.
“It’s fresh in peoples’ minds now, but the investigation is not close to over,” he said. “You ask anyone involved in this investigation; I think everyone realizes it’s not often you investigate a random abduction.”
If this was, in fact, an opportunistic crime, concerns will linger.
Safety worries aside, Carlesha’s abduction galvanized Penn-Knox residents in positive ways.
It was evident in a neighborhood email thread that saw Penn-Knox Neighbors Association members discussing logistics of sending “Welcome Home” flowers, cards, meals and well wishes to Carlesha’s family on Hansberry Street, three blocks from the abduction scene.
“We are all happy to contribute to our community’s support of Carlesha and her family,” wrote group member Ed Marshall, who echoed neighbors’ respect for law-enforcement efforts.
That sentiment went beyond email.
“It was a tremendous demonstration of how concerned our neighbors here are about each other. People offering to bake a cake? It seems so Mayberry to me,” she said. “The response has been so caring and homey. It was touching.”
Baranauskas was working outside the polling place on the very corner where Carlesha was abducted, when one of the missing woman’s aunts came up during a nearby press conference.
“She was verbalizing what she knew so far, what the family was feeling,” she said. “As much as you want to hug a stranger you’ve never seen before, that was everybody’s reaction.”
So, what’s the bottom line for Penn-Knox residents today?
There are worries about a lack of sidewalk and street lighting which would help deter an environment for random crimes.
There is satisfaction that police say they will continue to keep an eye on Penn-Knox streets even after the Carlesha story leaves the front page.
And there is pride.
“I love my neighborhood,” she said. “When odd things happen, it could be the asteroid streaming towards earth or a prelude to something else. There are things we can control and things we can’t control.
“While nobody knew her individually before, Carlesha will certainly have more new BFFs than she thought she could ever have in this neighborhood.”