Penn Station, the city's bustling train, bus and taxi hub, sits almost exactly in Baltimore's geographic center. Within a two-mile radius lie many of the city's cultural treasures: four colleges and universities, two major art museums, a symphony and an opera hall and the stately main branch of the library. Youthful entrepreneurs have transformed once-derelict blocks just north of the station with nightclubs, galleries, a movie theater and even a do-it-yourself electronics workshop. But many of the blocks between these well-lighted places remain unsafe. The fatal stabbing of a Johns Hopkins research assistant as he walked from Penn Station to Charles Village last weekend is a grim reminder that the area has far to go to be a truly walkable cultural center. "Part of why we bought a house in Charles Village is because we can walk to the grocery store and the park and everywhere else," said Melissa Schober, 31, who moved to Baltimore from Boston with her husband in 2007. "But it feels unnatural to not have the ability to walk from one neighborhood to another, to have these boundaries." The killing of Stephen Pitcairn, two days shy of his 24th birthday, has led residents to reconsider neighborhoods that had been considered among the safest in the city. Pitcairn was walking in the 2600 block of St. Paul St. about 11 p.m. on a July night when a man and woman robbed him of his wallet and cell phone, then plunged a knife into his chest. John Alexander Wagner, 34, and Lavelva Merritt, 24, were charged with first-degree murder in his death. Wagner and Merritt have a long history of drug abuse and violent crimes, but had served little time. Police say they found Pitcairn's belongings and a pair of bloody shoes in the couple's apartment, two blocks from the crime scene.
KENNETH K. LAM, Baltimore Sun