Baltimore mother recounts seeing her son's fatal shooting: 'I can't shut my eyes'

Damien Best, 21, was the 29th homicide victim in Baltimore in October, and the 279th this year.

When Vonda Best heard a gunshot Monday night on the street outside her Northeast Baltimore home, she ran to the window — and watched as a hooded figure stood above her 21-year-old son and fired off several more rounds.

"I ran outside, came out the door and yelled, 'Y'all get off my damn son!'" Best, 58, said in an interview Tuesday. "I just know they killed my son, right in front of me."

She said the gunman, who was with a group of others with dark hoods "down over their eyes," then waved the gun at her, sending her fleeing back inside.

"We called 911, and they took their damn time getting here," she said. "I can't shut my eyes. I can't believe this is going on, this is happening. It don't seem real. Whenever I shut my eyes, I just see it happening over again."

Police said Damien Best was found with a gunshot wound about 9:50 p.m. in the 5400 block of Moores Run Drive, in the city's Cedonia neighborhood. He was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Best did not have a criminal record in Maryland. His mother said he graduated from Reginald F. Lewis High School and worked as a teller at a local bank.

His death was the 29th homicide in Baltimore in October, and the 279th this year, putting the city on pace to reach 300 killings before the year is out — a mark not seen since the 1990s.

"It's a shame people are just so mean. I don't know why people are so mean like that. They're just crazy," Vonda Best said. "People need to stop being so mean and love each other. Just hold hands or something."

On Monday night, friends and family flooded the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency room, Best said, waiting for news about her son. Homicide detectives interviewed her about what she saw.

Damien had been inside, eating dinner, just before the shooting, she said. She doesn't know why he went outside. "Somebody must have called him," she said.

After the shooting, the group "robbed him, went in his pockets, took his money, and then snatched his belt off of him," she said. "If they needed that money like that, they could have asked him for it. He would have given it to them, because he was like that. He was a nice guy, never got in trouble."

Her son had a good head on his shoulders, she said. He was working, living at home, and enjoyed spending time with his girlfriend, his mother said.

He grew up on Moores Run Drive, not far from the county line and facing a park the city recently restored. He "didn't have beef with anyone," his mother said.

The police took her son's car, which was parked on the street and was also hit by bullets, in the hope of collecting evidence, she said.

As with so many killings in Baltimore this year, police did not release any information about a possible suspect or a motive for the crime. They asked anyone with information to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, who represents the district and lives down the street, said he heard the gunshots — as did other members of the Cedonia community — and went to the scene Monday night.

Scott said he'd been on the street that morning, passing out fliers about an upcoming Cedonia community meeting.

"It just shows you the deepness of the issues and the severity of the issues," he said of Best's killing.

"No one is safe from the cowardice. No one is safe from the disease that is plaguing our city," Scott said. "For it to be right next to a park that we just spent $5 million renovating, adding lights and improving fields for youth, means we have to do more in every facet. It's not always about guns and drugs."

Best said she wants justice for her son. Her sisters were at her home Tuesday, to provide support.

"We're just in shock," she said. "He was a good person."

krector@baltsun.com

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