Tracey Carrington went by "Tray," or "Trayyyy," or sometimes "Tray Bae" and "Tray Baby." She was a Morgan State basketball star who’d grown up in West Baltimore and was one of the first college grads in her family.
In her Facebook profile picture, she holds a basketball, about to make a shot, her eyes clearly set on succeeding.
At 25, Carrington was on her way, friends and family say. Then, last week, she was gunned down by an unknown assailant while she was leaving a sports bar on Belair Road. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
“This was not supposed to happen,” said Taylor, a close friend from Morgan who requested The Sun use only his last name out of concern for his safety.
At Morgan, she became a captain of the women’s basketball team. Her achievements on the court were highlighted during a 2015 radio interview, recorded on the eve of her last home game. “God works in mysterious ways,” Carrington said. “Four years ago I didn’t think I would be at Morgan State University because I was born and raised in Baltimore and never had the intent to go to school at home. … But I have been blessed.”
One day, she met Taylor, a theater and performance art major, at the university’s student center. Both had grown up in West Baltimore and related over the pressure they felt on campus. Being some of the first members of their families to go to college, they felt an intense need to succeed — or risk disappointing everyone else. "It's on your shoulders to break this chain," Taylor said.
Despite all the pressures, Carrington was a joker. She had a megawatt-smile. Her contagious laugh reminded Taylor of a chipmunk.
“Her laugh would make you laugh,” he said. He’d take videos of them walking around campus just to keep the memories.
After games she'd change out of her jersey and into khakis, Sperrys and a button-down shirt and hit the books.
The slain Dundalk resident was being called as a prosecution witness in the killing of Stanley B. Brunson Jr., 29, and Shameek Davone Joyner, 28, at a Towson apartment complex in April, according to Warren Brown, an attorney representing one of two men charged in the incident.
Baltimore County police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach said the department was investigating “multiple avenues,” but declined to elaborate further.
“Just because that investigation came up doesn’t mean that’s the reason she was targeted,” Peach said. “There are a number of things we’re looking at that could have been the reason. We don't want to pigeon-hole ourselves.”
Those who knew Carrington say the community has lost a bright light who hoped to be a force for good. She grew up in the city’s Mondawmin neighborhood, later moving to Dundalk, where she was named an all-metro first-team pick by The Baltimore Sun.
She majored in sociology — with a minor in criminal justice — and her death has left the department “devastated,” said sociology chair Stella Hargett. “I can’t even wrap my head around it.”
When she graduated from college, it was a huge deal for her family, according to her sister, Anastasia Carrington. Everyone came out, shouting and cheering for her achievement. But it wasn’t just her success that they cheered: It was her.
“I was honored to call her my sister for 25 years,” the elder Carrington said through tears.
After graduating, she became an assistant basketball coach and substitute teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools — the same system where she had shone as a high school athlete.
“She was living her passion and utilizing her degree at the same time,” Natasha Pratt-Harris, another Morgan sociology professor, wrote in an email.
Carrington recently competed overseas in Australia and Switzerland as part of the Baltimore Cougars Legends program, and was interviewed by The Baltimore Sun in July. She talked about breaking out of her comfort zone far from the city where she grew up.
Taylor said Carrington was protective of her friends. He remembers one time during finals week when the two of them and several members of her team went to a local convenience store for a break. As they returned to campus, they realized they were being followed. Carrington told the group to start running back to school. But she made sure she was the last to leave.
"She wouldn't move until everybody started running," Taylor said. When he was around her, he said, he felt safe. "Regardless of what happens, she not gonna let nothing happen to me."
The friends became inseparable after the incident. They joked that they would get married.
A GoFundMe page posted by her brother Charles Carrington had collected more than $10,000 for funeral expenses as of Monday evening. He eulogized her on the page as a “person who would love you even if you didn’t deserve it.”
Baltimore County state’s attorney Scott Shellenberger said his office has no update on the case, other than to confirm Carrington was a witness in a separate murder investigation.
“We’re letting police do their jobs,” he said. “They have all options available.”
Norwood Thomas Johnson Jr., 29, and Nyghee Nicholas Johnson, 21, who are brothers, are charged in the April 8 killing at the 20 Lambourne Apartments. They were released in April after posting bail — $75,000 for Nyghee Johnson and $150,000 bond for Norwood Johnson — and were required to wear an ankle bracelet to track their whereabouts. Brown said both remain on home detention.
Both men have motions hearings scheduled in November and a trial scheduled for Jan. 15. Anastasia Carrington said the family didn’t know anything about the case, or that her sister was supposed to testify. But she wants to know why two men being accused of homicide had been allowed out of jail.
Taylor says he was devastated to learn about her death. “You spend every day with somebody and you see her on Murder Ink,” he said referring to a social media account that tracks homicide deaths. But he’ll never forget her.
“She’s a legend,” he said. “Legends live forever.”
During that interview on the eve of her final basketball game at Morgan State, Carrington was asked what she saw for her future.
“I think I’m going to leave that one up to God,” she said. “Nothing’s never promised.”
This story was featured in The Sun's Alexa Flash Briefing on Sept. 11, 2018.