WEST OCEAN CITY, Md. – Four taxi cabs belonging to an Ocean City, Md., woman charged with murdering her newborn baby were vandalized Monday night, heightening concerns among local officials, business owners and residents that the gruesome crime will damage the reputation of the popular seaside resort community.
Christy Freeman, 37, has been charged with killing a pre-term baby boy last week, and is suspected in the deaths of three other fetuses whose remains were found on Freeman's property Monday. Freeman is the owner of Classic Taxi, a car service specializing in providing customers with older, vintage cars.
State police said Tuesday that the four cars—including a 1963 Ford Fairlane—had busted windshields and windows. Detective Sergeant Mitch Frey of the Maryland State Police in Worcester County said the vandalism was probably "the result of somebody, you know, taking offense" to the accusations against Freeman.
The case has sparked shock and outrage in the community, which is at the height of its lucrative summer tourist season. Fears that the grisly discoveries would scare away tourists and cast a permanent mark against Ocean City have been running high.
"We can't have this stamp on Ocean City," a local bar owner told Fox News.
Briefing reporters Tuesday, Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino emphasized that Freeman's crimes were an abberation.
"Ocean City is a very safe place," she said. "We have one of the top boardwalks, top beaches in the nation. It's a great place to raise a family."
Ocean City, with a population of 7,000, last saw a murder in 2002.
"This is a domestic-type situation," DiPino said, as tourists strolled over to check out a city block swarmed by national media and gloved FBI investigators. Some onlookers wore just bathing suits and beach towels as they watched bulldozers claw up a lot next to a rundown two-story home where Freeman lived with her four living children and longtime boyfriend.
DiPino assured people, "There weren't tourists involved" in the case.
It was hard for tourists to ignore the commotion, though. Keith Herrmann of Langhorne, Pa., was lounging on the beach Monday when he noticed helicopters buzzing overhead. Later, he and his three children walked by the scene in between rounds of miniature golf.
"All day long helicopters were flying overhead," he said. "We thought it was an accident. Then we heard about this."
Linda Fields of Baltimore watched investigators Tuesday morning just two blocks from where she was staying on her annual vacation.
"I thought, Ocean City and murder, no way! I'm just absolutely shocked," Fields said. "It's just mind-boggling to have this here."
Some businesses, though, saw opportunity in the media attention. About 10 p.m. Monday, a deli five blocks away sent an employee on a bicycle to deliver menus to the press and police officers.
"We just want y'all to know we're open late if you need anything," said the deli worker, 21-year-old Pat O'Toole.
Across the street, motel owner Peter Gikurias said he had no worries patrons would cancel rooms booked for a fishing tournament this weekend. He didn't even mind the reporters blocking traffic.
"I just wish those guys with the cameras would turn them around and show my sign," Gikurias said.
Herrmann and Fields said the beach resort shouldn't worry the Freeman case will hurt tourism.
"It's something bizarre, one in a million," Herrmann said as he watched a dump truck carry away dirt and debris from the lot.