A Security Square Mall merchant was shot dead yesterday in a parking lot at the Woodlawn shopping center, and police recovered last night a stolen car spotted leaving the scene.
Investigators were exploring the possibility that Warren T. Fleming, the owner of a Cingular Wireless store in the mall who was described as a role model for aspiring young African-American entrepreneurs, was killed during an attempted carjacking.
Fleming had been in his store early yesterday morning and was getting into his car about 10:30 a.m. for a quick visit to his nearby home before a scheduled haircut and basketball game when he was killed, his wife, Danielle, said. Police told her they were looking into the possibility that he was killed during an attempted robbery, she said.
It was the second fatal shooting at a Baltimore County mall within a year.
Police strung yellow tape between signs and light poles, and hung a red tarp near Fleming's Mercedes to block shoppers' view of the body, near an entrance to the Hecht's store. Officers checked the identifications of people trying to return to vehicles parked within the taped-off area.
Baltimore County police said they had no suspects but were interviewing several witnesses and intended to review footage from surveillance cameras inside and outside the mall.
The killing occurred about 11 months after the fatal shooting of a private school educator during a botched armed robbery in a parking garage at Towson Town Center. That shooting prompted the Baltimore County Council to pass legislation requiring large shopping centers to install security cameras.
Security Square Mall management installed a video surveillance system in 1997, shortly after the mall was purchased by its current owners, Capitol Investment Associates, mall officials said.
With fixed cameras and globe-like cameras that pan and tilt, the surveillance system covers "a majority of, if not all of, this property," Deirdre Moore Johnson, vice president and general manager of the company that manages the mall, said in an interview during a tour of the mall yesterday.
Mall management also installed a windowed police substation in the mall's center courtyard, where security officers and off-duty police officers monitor a bank of television and computer screens, Johnson said.
Of the security surveillance system, Johnson said, "We think it will be an aid in this case."
Fleming was found dead beside his four-door Mercedes in a parking lot between Hecht's and a building attached to the mall that houses Modell's Sporting Goods and several smaller shops, including a restaurant and a sub shop.
Police declined to disclose how many times or where on his body Fleming was shot.
They said investigators found the 2002 Dodge Intrepid with Maryland license tag MWH755 about 7 p.m. An MTA police officer on duty at the Owings Mills Metro Station north lot spotted the vehicle parked with its engine running and notified county police. The car was towed to police headquarters in Towson.
No arrests have been made.
Before the shooting, officers with Baltimore's Regional Auto Theft Task Force spotted the Dodge Intrepid, which had been reported stolen, in Northwest Baltimore, said Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman.
Police chased the car but lost sight of it, Hill said. A short time later, he said, the Dodge was seen leaving the mall parking lot.
Police had no indication that Fleming knew whoever killed him, Hill said. "We don't know if it was a targeted act or random," the spokesman said. "It's just too early."
Police are looking at the possibility that Fleming was shot during an attempted carjacking but are also looking at other possibilities, Hill said.
Fleming, 31, of the 7600 block of Johnnycake Road in the Woodlawn area was the father of a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. Four years ago, he married his college girlfriend of eight years, Danielle Fleming, who teaches first grade in Laurel. He liked to play basketball at a gym and wrestle with his children, his wife said.
The couple moved two years ago from a townhouse in Columbia to a two-story house - one of the few detached homes tucked amid sprawling developments of townhouses and apartment complexes on Johnnycake Road - "to have a big house for the kids," Danielle Fleming, 27, said through tears.
Johnson described Warren Fleming as an excellent young entrepreneur.
"When you look at the world of retail, it's a very difficult industry, not to enter into but to be successful in," she said. "Warren had not only the courage and wherewithal to enter this most competitive industry, but he was successful."
Fleming opened his Cingular Wireless store about five years ago with a temporary, short-term lease to test the retail waters at the mall, Johnson said.
With his business doing well, he converted his lease to a long-term agreement.
"He has grown along with us," Johnson said. "He was a role model, we hoped, for other African-Americans to enter the business."
Fleming's wife said he wanted to run his own business "because he loved selling." He opened the Security Square Mall store after selling cell phones for two years at Radio Shack. Fleming also owned a Cingular Wireless store in Catonsville, she said.
Johnson, who said she knew Fleming from her frequent interactions with the mall's merchants, said he had an easy way with people that attracted repeat customers.
"He was dynamic, a bright light," she said. "When you met him, you felt like either you had met him before or he was a longtime friend." Employees at other stores in the mall said they routinely saw Fleming on Thursdays.
"He was a very decent guy," said Sunny Panjwani, manager of Gold Valley, a jewelry shop that neighbors Fleming's store.
Mall owners added $25,000 to the $2,000 reward typically offered through Metro Crime Stoppers for information leading to arrests in the case. Anyone with information can call 866-7-LOCKUP.
Sun reporters Laura Barnhardt, Josh Mitchell and Nick Shields contributed to this article.
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