Assisted Living Slaying A ‘Very Strange Thing’

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Man, 87, Charged in Attack on 91-Year-Old
By Don Markus and Larry Carson
The Baltimore Sun
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

They were two elderly men living out their days at Harmony Hall, an assisted living facility in Columbia. James W. Brown and Earl Lafayette Wilder didn’t know each other, according to an official at the facility, and might not have had any contact until Aug. 14.

Now, Brown, 91, is dead, and Wilder, 87, has been charged with killing him that afternoon in an incident outside the home. It was Howard County’s first homicide of the year.

Joseph LaVerghetta, general counsel for Harmony Hall’s owner, said it isn’t clear what triggered the incident.

"Nobody knows what happened,” LaVerghetta said. "It’s shocking. It’s sad, a very strange thing."

Police said Brown was sitting on a bench outside Harmony Hall when Wilder struck him in the head.

Brown was taken by medical helicopter to a hospital and later was placed in hospice care, where he died of his injuries Saturday.

The state medical examiner’s office ruled Monday that Brown’s death was a homicide. Wilder was charged with second-degree murder and first- and second-degree assault.

A police spokeswoman said that Wilder is not in police custody but had been taken to a "private, nonprofit facility."

Police declined to comment on Wilder’s mental condition, citing privacy laws.

According to Sue Vaeth, administrator of Howard County’s Office on Aging, elder abuse or exploitation affects 1 million to 2 million people a year in the United States, but is usually caused by younger family members or staff members at an institution.

Incidents in which one elderly person kills another — a stranger — are unusual, Vaeth said.

Donna Cohen, a University of South Florida professor who has studied violence among seniors, said an incident such as the one at Harmony Hall would not necessarily be a premeditated crime. It could be triggered by a "catastrophic reaction to some event," she said.

Cohen said one question she has is whether officials at the assisted living facility could have anticipated the attack. She said residents who show signs of violent behavior are often relocated as quickly as possible.

On Monday, the scene outside Harmony Hall was serene. A man and a woman sat on a bench enjoying the late afternoon breeze.

"It’s a nice place," said the man, who didn’t identify himself.

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