The four shots, which came in the early hours of Memorial Day, sounded as if they had been fired from some distance by a small-caliber gun. Bernice Latou's dogs scampered in from the backyard of her Southwest Baltimore home, and she wondered whether someone had fired toward them to shut them up.
It was about 12:30 a.m. Monday, and Latou went to her door and peered along the first block of S. Mount St., but saw nothing.
Nearly an hour later, she heard sirens. She looked out again and saw a starkly different scene: Paramedics were tending to a large male under a bush, hooking him to an IV and carrying his body away. In an alley, Latou saw a smaller man lying in a pool of blood, with spent cartridges around him.
On many city blocks, such scenes have been synonymous with the Memorial Day weekend, a string of days that has often been marked by shootings and has served as a harbinger of summer violence.
This year, the violence and bloodshed over the holiday weekend continued. From Friday to Monday, six people were shot, three fatally, including a 16-year-old who was one of the two Latou saw lying outside her home. Police identified the teen as Oscar Torres, who lived nearby, and his death added to a spate of homicides and shootings across Baltimore in recent weeks.
There were dramatically fewer shootings than last year, when 12 people were shot — three of them killed — over the holiday weekend, but Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she wasn't satisfied.
"While the Memorial Day weekend this year may have been quieter than last year, one homicide or shooting is still one too many," she said in a statement.
Rawlings-Blake said police commanders have done a good job proactively adding officers to patrols over the past few days. And she expects even more progress in the coming months, as a new police contract gives the department more flexibility to staff patrol shifts and Operation CeaseFire, a new anti-violence initiative, begins.
So far this year, 75 people have been killed, fewer than in any of the previous three years. The Police Department's most recent crime data also showed that nonfatal shootings are down 8 percent compared with the same period last year.
Still, in recent weeks — mid-April to mid-May — statistics showed an increase in both homicides and nonfatal shootings compared with the same period last year.
The Rev. Willie E. Ray, an anti-violence activist for more than four decades, said he expects a violent summer because the same social and economic problems of city residents have not been addressed.
"Just as bad because you still have a high rate of unemployment, you have a lack of programs and recreational opportunities and the [drug] clientele is younger," said Ray, whose cousin Craig Ray, a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver, was killed earlier this year in the city.
To help develop solutions, the minister said, his group, Save Another Youth, The Stop the Violence Coalition, will host a summit June 7 at Coppin State University's Talon Center with area clergy, business leaders and politicians. He hopes the meeting will lead to the sponsorship and organizing of a slate of summer events and programs, including rap concerts, gospel shows and youth basketball games.
He also wants to challenge every church in Baltimore to adopt one corner and open up facilities for children's games and computer labs.
"Create some momentum in the city for a positive action," he said Monday. "There are churches on every corner but their doors are locked because they live in fear."
Across the country, police responded to spurts of violence over the Memorial Day weekend.
In New Orleans, the Times-Picayune reported Monday that more than 15 people had been killed or wounded since Friday. In Chicago, two men were killed and at least five people injured in shootings on Sunday night and early Monday morning, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Baltimore has endured much deadlier Memorial Day weekends. In 2010, 10 people were killed in shootings that grew out of a gang feud and domestic disputes. Among the dozen shot during the 2013 holiday weekend was 1-year-old Carter Scott, the city's youngest homicide victim in several years; he was struck by a bullet during a hit that police said was aimed at his father, who was wounded.
The spate of shootings last year was an ignominious start to a wave of summer violence that helped push the annual homicide count to a four-year high of 235. It also contributed to an annual increase in nonfatal shootings, after six consecutive years of declines.
This year, police hope a strategy that includes increased patrols in high-crime areas will reverse the trend, and on Monday a police cruiser was parked at the South Mount Street slaying scene, which was across from Steuart Hill Academic Academy, an elementary school. Other marked and unmarked police cars drove up and down the street all morning.
Detectives continue to search for suspects in that double shooting — and in the killings of Gregory Price, shot in the 1600 block of Gertrude St. on Friday, and Martel Jackson, 27, found behind a gas station in the 2300 bock of Frederick Ave. on Saturday.
The victim who was critically wounded in Monday's South Mount Street shooting was found in an alley next to the Hope Stone, a marker shaped like a tombstone. The stone, erected in 1995 when Baltimore experienced 325 murders, was placed as a message of defiance to street violence and injustice. On its face are the words: "We will hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."
"He was breathing," Latou said. "There was blood all over the big area."
The stone sits on the grounds of Viva House, a soup kitchen that has been operating since 1968 as part of the Catholic Worker movement. Brendan Walsh and his wife, Willa Bickham, run the homeless help center, which includes a food pantry and was featured on the television show "The Wire."
Walsh and his wife have lived on the grounds since its opening and said the neighborhood struggles with violence. He doesn't think it wanes or surges with the weather, but does seem to become more prevalent in the summertime because more people are outside. The cause, he said, is a lack of jobs.
"People are desperate," Walsh said.
An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect percentage for the decrease in nonfatal shootings this year. The Sun regrets the error.
Homicides as of May 26
2014 — 75
2013 — 84
2012 — 82
2011 — 81Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun