The discovery by firefighters of the bodies of two men in the burned-out basement of a Mount Vernon eatery quickly turned into a murder investigation, as a weekend without any shootings in Baltimore gave way to a bloody Monday.
Police were also investigating six shootings Monday that injured six and killed at least one. There hadn't been a shooting in Baltimore since late Wednesday night, a striking calm during a summer of violence that has galvanized city officials and neighborhood activists.
Meanwhile, police were asking for the public's help in locating a murder suspect they dubbed the city's new "Public Enemy No. 1." Authorities said Capone Chase, 19, is wanted for executing a man this month in a secluded Greektown playground, just three days after pleading guilty in a robbery case and receiving a suspended sentence.
Monday's first shooting occurred at 3:30 a.m. in the 3900 block of Oakford Ave., in Northwest Baltimore's Dolfield neighborhood, police said. The unidentified victim was struck several times in the legs and is expected to survive.
Around the same time, a fire tore through the first-floor Da Vinci's Market and Bistro in the 800 block of Park Ave., into the basement below and up through at least two higher floors of the four-story building, a Fire Department spokesman said.
Firefighters brought the flames under control by 3:49 a.m. The men's bodies were located among utilities and supplies in Da Vinci's basement.
Neighbor Jeffrey Hayes said he watched as police reviewed security footage from the scene on a large monitor, which he said appeared to show two masked men robbing the store and then locking two men in the basement. Hayes said they used a lighter to ignite a cardboard box near the rear of the store.
Police would not confirm Hayes' account but said detectives were in the midst of a "very active investigation."
Capt. Stanley Brandford, commander of the homicide unit, said police believed the fire was set intentionally. Police said they were awaiting the results of autopsies to determine cause of death and confirm identities.
Hayes, who said he once worked at Da Vinci's, said he had just stepped into his home when he heard someone screaming outside and smelled the fire.
Hayes said he went back outside and saw billowing smoke. He considered rushing into the burning shop, he said, but couldn't get in.
"I'm not Superman," he said. "But if I knew they were in that basement, whether the front door was locked, I would have broke the door down."
Neither the owner of Da Vinci's, listed in state business records as Sheikh Mustafa, nor the property owner, listed in state property records as Raif Atlas, could be reached for comment.
The deaths bring to 13 the number of people killed in fires in Baltimore this year. A total of 12 people died in fires all of last year.
On Sunday, a woman was killed in a fire in an apartment building in Southwest Baltimore, while another was critically injured in a fire at the Gilmor Homes public housing complex on Sunday evening.
On Monday afternoon, the Baltimore Fire Department announced it would be canvassing neighborhoods in an effort to get residents to install more smoke alarms.
Outside Da Vinci's, near a heap of burned wood, bedding and other household items, neighbors and business owners took stock of the damage.
"Of course it's shocking," said Karen Fricker, owner of Chained Desires, a fetish and apparel shop in the basement of the building next to Da Vinci's.
At 9:30 a.m. Monday, officers were called to the 1700 block of N. Bond St. in East Baltmore's Oliver neighborhood, where a man was shot and later pronounced dead. Three evidence markers were placed near the intersection of North Bond and East Lanvale streets, with detectives taking notes further up the block in front of a home. An item of clothing lay in the street.
A neighbor described the block as "infested with drugs."
"Somebody up there saw [the shooting], I'll bet you that," said the woman, who did not want to give her name for fear of reprisal. "There's those who see it and don't tell it, and there's those who live in it and don't tell it."
In Greektown, police asked Monday afternoon for the public's help in finding Chase, whom they dubbed the agency's top fugitive target.
Chase is the department's second "Public Enemy No. 1." The first, 25-year-old murder suspect Darryl Anderson, was captured last week by U.S. marshals in Alabama.
Maj. Bill Davis, standing on the soft rubber surface of a playground in the 4600 block of Gough St., told reporters that Chase had vaulted to the top spot because the killing of Ramon Rodriguez took place in a playground, a haven for children.
He said Chase, like Anderson, is believed to be a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang. A photograph distributed by police showed that Chase, also like Anderson, has a tattoo of a cross between his eyes.
Court records show Chase was charged with armed robbery in late February, and on July 10 pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. He received a sentence of five years, with four years, four months and 15 days suspended.
Chase was released on July 11. Rodriguez, 21, was killed two nights later.
As the Greektown news conference concluded, police reported a shooting victim had walked into a West Baltimore hospital for treatment, then said that two men had been shot on the corner of North Milton Avenue and East Preston Street. A wide pool of blood stained the sidewalk, dripping off the curb and toward a storm drain.
Lt. Col. Dan Lioi said the younger victim, believed to be in his 20s, was shot in the head and critically wounded, while an older victim was shot in the arm and is expected to survive.
A blue bicycle lay on its side just inside the crime scene tape. It was not clear whether it belonged to a victim.
"We're not sure how the bike plays into it at this time," Lioi said.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Monday, two men were shot in separate incidents that were reported just minutes apart — one man shot in his right side at East 20th Street and Boone Street, another man shot in his arm and leg in the 2100 block of McCulloh Street, police said.
twitter.com/rectorsunCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun