The body of 13-year-old Tywonde' Jones lay under a white sheet behind a decrepit vacant home in Northwest Baltimore.

He had been stabbed and slashed 228 times. One-hundred and eighty-eight were puncture wounds, some as deep as six inches, piercing his skull, lungs, ribs, liver and kidney. He suffered injuries to his arms and hands as he tried to fend off the blows.

Word quickly spread, and the boy's mother, Monica, frenzied and grief-stricken, rushed down to Cordelia Avenue in central Park Heights. It was the night of Nov. 29, 2007. An unknown boy approached her.

"I'm so sorry," she recalls him saying. "This wasn't supposed to happen. But we know who did it. And we're going to get him."

Within four months, the teen whom detectives had developed as a suspect in Tywonde' Jones' death was fatally shot before police had compiled enough evidence to arrest and to charge.

In the code of the street, a boy's murder had been taken care of. But even the killer of a killer must be brought to justice.

Pattern of vengeance

In Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods, the slightest provocation can touch off the deadliest violence, and like cracking open a shaken-up bottle of soda, it can be impossible to contain. Many city shootings can be traced back to beefs that span months or years, grievances all too often settled on the street through a pattern of vengeance.

For some, it's a means of survival; to others, it can lead to a satisfying remedy.

Amid a flurry of conflicting stories and dueling allegiances, motive often gets lost, and the real reason for Tywonde's stabbing may never be fully understood. To piece together events surrounding his death, The Baltimore Sun interviewed family members and law enforcement officials, sat in on court hearings and reviewed police reports, autopsies and other records.

Police and prosecutors blame the killing on a dispute within gangs. But Tywonde's older brother, Anthony Jones, said the initial feud was more simplistic: it was because of him, and sparked by a Lil' Wayne rap song playing over a cell phone.

"You better cut that phone off before it get took," a boy said to Anthony Jones one day at Garrison Middle School.

He retorted, "By who?"

"By me," the teen replied.

And that was that. Anthony Jones, who at the time was 15, said he challenged the boy, a member of the Bloods, to a fight, and they and their friends walked to a bus stop for an old-fashioned schoolyard fight. He said the two squared up, and he landed a blow to the boy's jaw.

"I banged him one time, and he ran," Anthony Jones recalled in an interview.

Anthony said word spread that he had not fought the boy, but jumped him — a dishonorable offense — and his friends vowed revenge. Where fists had sufficed in the first encounter, the stakes had been raised. He says someone tried to shoot him in an alley, and a group of teens later showed up at his grandmother's house and told her that if they couldn't get Anthony Jones, they would get someone that he loved.

Precocious Tywonde'

Anthony and Tywonde' Jones had grown up together in Park Heights, the youngest of five children. With their father gone and their mother battling drugs, child protective services threatened to put the boys into a foster home. Their grandmother came to the rescue and adopted them.