Crime In Howard County: Gunman, women killed in apparent murder-suicide identified by police; court records show lengthy custody battle

This article first appeared here in the Baltimore Sun.

Howard County Police on Sunday identified two of the three individuals who were killed in an apparent double murder-suicide Saturday that spanned from Federal Hill to Columbia. Early Monday morning, Baltimore Police identified the third person.

Police said Rajaee Shareef Black, 44, fatally shot his ex-girlfriend, Tara Labang, 41, inside a home in South Baltimore. He then traveled to Columbia and gunned down his ex-wife, Wendy Natalie Black, 42.

In a Facebook Live video taken between the killings, Black, who is from the 7600 block of Ironworks Way in Hanover, stood outside an apartment building in Columbia’s Kings Contrivance neighborhood where he says he’s upset about custody issues with both women.

Court records show the Blacks have been tangled in a custody battle since July 2018. There have been filings nearly every month throughout the past three years, with the most recent one being filed Tuesday. Both Wendy and Rajaee Black worked as certified registered nurse anesthetists, helping administer the proper doses of anesthesia for surgeries and other procedures such as epidurals.

There are several domestic violence cases listed in online records against Rajaee Black with the latest being issued in April 2020. The April case, along with a peace order in March 2019, were dismissed by a judge, the records show. Two other domestic violence cases were filed in July 2018 and September 2018 but were dropped shortly after being filed. The court records do not say who filed the charges against him.

Court records also show a domestic violence case against Wendy Black in October 2018, but the case was dismissed by the person who filed it. Records do not show who filed the complaint.

In the video posted on Facebook, Rajaee Black says he “just did something crazy.”

“I just shot my ex-girlfriend in the head,” he says. “Felt like a dream. I never thought I would be that guy. I can’t go to prison, so the person that really started my depression and all of this is my ex-wife. So, she next. Then I’m going to do myself too.”

In that moment, Wendy Black opens the door.

“Oh, there’s my ex-wife right now,” he says.

Then, the video cuts off.

Shortly after the shooting, police found the Blacks’ two young children unharmed in Rajaee Black’s gray BMW in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Police said the children did not witness the shooting and have been placed in a “safe environment.” The names, ages or gender of the children were not released by police for privacy reasons, the agency said.

The shootings unfolded within an hour of each other.

Baltimore Police Department’s Southern District station got a call around 1:30 p.m. about a residential alarm in the 1500 block of Marshall St. Inside the home, officers found Labang shot to death.

Howard County Police officers had been dispatched around 2:08 p.m. for shots fired in the 7300 block of Eden Brook Drive in Columbia, department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said. When they arrived at 2:14 p.m., they found Wendy and Rajaee Black dead.

Howard County officers got a call from their counterparts in Baltimore around 2:22 p.m. about the video, the agency said — but it was too late.

By Sunday afternoon, there were minimal traces of the crimes that had occurred just 24 hours before. In Columbia, the only thing indicating something had gone awry was a boarded-up window on the first floor of the apartment complex.

Wendy Black had worked at Howard County General Hospital as a nurse anesthetist for nearly five years, spokeswoman Sharon Sopp said. And according to his LinkedIn page, Rajaee held a nurse anesthetist position at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and previously worked for the University of Maryland Capital Region Health for about 3 1/2 years.

Labang had also been working at Capital Region Health, according to a statement from hospital spokeswoman Jania Matthews.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic incident surrounding the death of a team member, who cared for patients in our hospital under a contract with a medical provider,” Matthews wrote in an email. “We extend heartfelt condolences to the family and are offering grief counseling to her colleagues.”

Court records show Rajaee Black filed a federal lawsuit against University of Maryland Medical System in January, claiming he had been wrongfully fired after he exposed a doctor who was allegedly stashing drugs in his locker.

The lawsuit, which did not name the doctor, claimed that everybody knew Black was the whistleblower and started refusing to work with him. He was fired in April 2020, according to the suit, and he was forced to “risk his life” by working a “regular” nursing job in New York at the height of COVID-19 to provide for his family and obtain health insurance.

Matthews declined to comment on the case, citing a long-standing practice of not discussing pending litigation.

Dorothy Lennig, director of the Marjorie Cook Legal Clinic at House of Ruth Maryland, said troubling incidents like Saturday’s killings raise plenty of questions about the efficacy of the systems in place to prevent domestic violence and protect the abused.

“People always talk about what she should have done differently. And lots of times the victim did everything she was supposed to do,” Lennig said. “We really need to then look at the abuser for what he did and how do we keep him from abusing.”

Lennig said she wonders about how Black was able to obtain a gun, and whether the professionals who made contact with the couple as they battled for custody of the children could have noticed signs of any abuse on Black’s part, verbal or otherwise.

“It’s just very important that we stay focused on that domestic violence really is dangerous and lethal,” Lennig said. “We have not solved that problem. And not only do we need to look at the physical abuse, we really need to look at coercive control.”

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