The day after a mother shopping with a baby was viciously knifed at Bed Bath & Beyond, people at the Route 35 shopping plaza said they still feel safe in Middletown.
Residents said they felt it was a random act of violence, and unexpected in the township of 67,000 which likes to call itself "The biggest small town in America," a place where the township police force will be well-staffed with 103 officers next week, and a dedicated Quality of Life unit aggressively pursues hot spots.
"I'm totally, totally shocked," said Teashy Burns of the Oak Hill section of Middletown, who teared up upon learning about the incident in the parking lot of Bed Bath & Beyond, where she was stopping to return a purchase. "I feel safe in Middletown, all the time. But I'm going to have my guard up."
Inside the busy housewares store Friday, it seemed like business as usual. Two somber-faced managers stood near the front door, and sometimes stepped outside to observe television crews surrounding shoppers in the parking lot. They declined to answer any questions about the incident, currently under investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, but without giving their names offered that the company's heartfelt "thoughts and prayers" were with the victim and her family.
Outside Staples, Stephanie McAlary of Middletown, a 22-year old college student picking up posterboard and bubble wrap for a return to campus said she did not feel her hometown was a dangerous place. "But it will make me more aware," she said.
Merchants in neighboring stores said they were saddened by the events yesterday, Khalid Channa, owner of Harmony Natural Foods and a longtime resident said "Middletown is a safe place. I hope she survives for her baby. She's a mother," he said.
An employee there, Barbara Balchus, said she was especially troubled by the crime in her hometown because she thinks she saw the suspect loitering in the parking lot, when she left her job at 3:10 p.m "He seemed to be walking around aimlessly," she recalled. "He had his head down."
But she didn't think much it. "In four years working here, I've never felt uncomfortable," she said.
At Benjamin Moore Paints, employee Christopher Angelos of Middletown said a customer came in last night and told them about the stabbing incident, and described seeing the victim on a stretcher. "It's tragic, what happened," he said. "She was with her kid, and that's frightening."
The life at the shopping plaza is very quiet, he said, and violent acts like this are not typical of life in all. "It's very, very strange," said Angelos.