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Volunteers plant 'guerrilla' gardens as Ceasefire tribute to shooting victims

Michelle Moore never will forget the night she returned home to Barclay Street, pregnant with her now 15-month-old daughter, to find a man shot dead in the street near the elementary school. The victim, identified by police as Domonique Thaniel, 37, had been riding his bicycle through the city’s Abell neighborhood that night in January 2017.

On Saturday, Moore and a group of volunteers returned to the site of the shooting to shovel dirt into planters and fill them with tomatoes, squash and cucumbers in Thaniel’s honor. The idea to bring light and plant life to places of darkness and death, one of dozens of Baltimore Ceasefire events around the city Saturday, came from Abell resident Crystallynn Fallier. Fallier, a 33-year-old ceramic artist, organized the planting of “guerrilla” gardens at murder sites throughout the city.

“It’s healing for the neighborhood to have a garden planted in his name,” Moore, a counselor who works with children, said of the tribute to Thaniel. She said she came to the Ceasefire event because witnessing the aftermath of a shooting shook her up, and because “I work with kids, and I work with too many kids who have lost parents or uncles to gun violence.”

This weekend’s “Ceasefire,” the fourth such grassroots effort to reduce and raise awareness about violence in the city, started Friday and was to run for 72 hours with events such as blood drives, rallies, movie nights, food collections and block parties. The mantra for the weekend, as with the previous Ceasefire weekends, was “Nobody kill anybody.”

As of midafternoon Saturday, Baltimore police had not reported any fatal shootings.

On Barclay Street, Fallier, 33, who runs Joules Studio from her Abell Avenue home, crouched near one of the raised beds created from leftover plastic rings that protect water meters outside city homes. She had seen work crews about to dispose of the rings and thought they’d make sturdy sidewalk planters. The idea to swoop into neighborhoods with plants grew from there.

“Today’s project is to physically bring plants, which collect light and energy, to the spaces where people have actully been murdered,” Fallier said. Going “guerrilla-style,” means just showing up and dropping in a planter, either near vacant or abandoned houses or murder sites. “As the lives were taken without permission, this was put together on a rather short notice, and we don’t necessarily have permission...I want to honor the lives and bring back light to where it has been stolen.”

Theresa Reuter of Hamilton Hills said she had attended past Ceasefire events and memorials, so on Saturday she decided to put on boots and a hat to go out and plant.

“We all need to raise our voices and put our bodies where our hearts are so that these places where our brothers and sisters have been murdered are remembered in a way that we can stop it happening anymore,” said Reuter, a retired elementary school art teacher and artist.

After stopping in Abell, the group planned to go to the intersection of Division and Lanvale streets in Upton where, according to police, husband and wife Sean Dyer, 34, and Mykia Dyer, 29, were shot and killed Jan. 23. The couple was killed just over a week before the beginning of the city’s last Baltimore Ceasefire, which began Feb. 2. It was the first such event during which no one was killed in the city.

Ceasefire organizers have said they plan to hold the weekends every three months. Baltimore saw an especially violent April. The city reached 100 homicides for the year earlier this week.

The last ceasefire weekend, in February, was the first during which no one was killed in the city during the event’s designated period.

Fallier said she had been documenting city murders through the creation of ceramic tiles starting in 2016, before the start of the Ceasefire efforts. She said she hopes to use art to help reduce violence and raise awareness.

At one point, she approached people at an open-air drug market near Pennsylvania and North avenues, she said, and asked if she could “borrow” the corner for an art project to help reduce the city’s murder rate. They agreed.

“When we got there the following Saturday … they all cleared,” she said. “I found that to be really fascinating.”

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lmirabella

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