The last homes on the south side of the 3900 block of The Alameda in Northeast Baltimore are almost identical. They are split-level structures, built in 1957, with two bedrooms and one bath.
They share similar narrow driveways, rolling front lawns — and grieving families.
Both were homes to homicide victims and their families this year.
In the yellow home to the left live relatives recovering from the loss of Terry Junior Davis, 48, a registered nurse shot in the head in his room in February.
In the beige home to the right are relatives still in shock since losing Dietrich Emanuel Fitts, 46, a substitute teacher fatally shot Tuesday night just a 10-minute drive north of his house.
"He's my youngest son and very dear to my heart," said his father, the Rev. Leroy Fitts.
Next-door neighbors, the families are separated by walls but connected by grief — underscoring the prevalence of violence in Baltimore.
In a city where there were 235 homicides last year and 63 people have been killed so far this year, their experience is not unusual. Many blocks have seen multiple homicides. Last year, police took the unusual step of posting officers around the clock outside a short West Baltimore block after a third person was killed there in just six months.
Police said they are investigating all angles in the killings of the two neighbors, including whether there are any connections.
"I'm hoping that's an odd, eerie coincidence and not the norm," said John Vaughters, a vice president of the Ednor Gardens Lakeside neighborhood. "I'm a little upset. That's just a block from me."
Police reported finding Dietrich Fitts on Tuesday night in the 2400 block of Wellbridge Drive in a car, a gunshot wound to his face. Taken to a hospital, he was pronounced dead less than an hour later. The case is unsolved, and Baltimore police spokesman Detective Jeremy Silbert said investigators are checking to see whether there are any links to Davis' case.
Donathan A. Booth, 25, was charged in March in Davis' killing. Police said Booth, who told detectives he was in a relationship with Davis, fatally shot him and stole his BMW and a credit card, according to court records.
In February, Fitts stood on his porch hours after the police tape had been removed next door and said that he was shocked anyone would kill Davis, whom he described as a "good person" and hard worker.
"I can't imagine why someone would want to do this," Fitts told The Baltimore Sun at the time.
Now his family is wondering the same thing.
Dietrich Fitts had his struggles, his parents said. He had a heart condition that occasionally required hospitalization. He was arrested last month in Baltimore County on a drug possession charge and was scheduled to be in court in June, state court records show.
He wanted a better life, his family said, and had graduated two years ago from Baltimore City Community College. He pledged to finish his bachelor's degree this year and aspired to teach.
"Everybody has issues," said his mother, Alice Fitts. "He's my son. I love him very much."
He was the son who took on every task when decorating for his parents' 50th anniversary celebration earlier this year. He always left home with the same goodbye: "Love ya, Mom, see ya in a few."
He consoled Davis' family when they were grieving next door.
Davis' brother, who declined to give his name, walked over to the Fittses' front porch Friday and told Alice Fitts that Dietrich had been a comfort over the past few months.
"I don't understand how anything like this could happen to him," he said, giving Alice Fitts a hug and pledging to be just as helpful to her family.
"I have to pick up something," he told her. "So if you need me to pick up something, I'm here. I will be checking up on you."
Dietrich Fitts was a divorced father of two grown children, but he maintained his childlike enthusiasm into his 40s. "Who wants to go to the store!" his sister Angelique Fitts Taylor said he used to yell to his nephews and nieces before taking them on a candy run.
Taylor said that when she cooked, he would always try to sneak a bite and became so persistent that she would have to surrender a little food to drive him away.
When the family crowded around the family living room together to watch the dance movie "Step Up," he told them he could still dance on his head and then proved it on the floor.
He was "full of love and mischief," Taylor said.
He was not much different as a child, said Leroy Fitts, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in East Baltimore. When he was just 2 or 3, he did a front flip down the church aisle one Sunday just as the service let out.
He was named Dietrich after Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Leroy Fitts had studied in graduate school. His son was also a philosopher, the pastor said, and he would often engage his siblings in political or religious dinner-table debates until he wore them out.
His middle name of Emanuel means "God with us," words his father said he now keeps close.
Both Leroy Fitts and his wife — a school counselor — have counseled many families of crime victims.
Leroy Fitts said he tells mourners to "talk through their grief and express themselves."
"God will take us through, and this too will pass, but it will take time," he has often said.
"I've counseled many people, but when it comes home — it's very hard," he said.
Alice Fitts, meanwhile, tells her students to focus on the "positive" attributes of those they have lost and to think about the funny and poignant times.
"Though they cannot see the person," she said, "the person is always with them. They can close their eyes and always see them."
A wake for Dietrich Fitts has been scheduled at 10 a.m. May 17 at First Baptist Church, 525 N. Caroline St., in Baltimore. A funeral service will follow at 10:30 a.m.
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