By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun
7:37 PM EDT, September 10, 2012
Even as relatives and friends held a funeral Monday to mourn a young mother killed by a stray bullet, Baltimore police pushed to solve a spate of killings that has left 10 dead in the past 10 days.
Dozens of mourners passed the open casket of LaRelle Ashlyn Amos, the former high school honor student who was killed after a family party in the early morning hours of Sept. 2. Geron Mills, the man Amos had called "the love of my life," placed his hand on his own chest, then on hers.
"I took my heart out and put it in there with her," Mills, the father of Amos' 1-year-old son, Geron II, said as he addressed more than 700 people at St. Stephens AME Church in Essex. "She's the only one I'll ever give it to."
The death of Amos, a 2008 graduate of Kenwood High School, was yet another tragic reminder of the seemingly inexhaustible violence that besets Baltimore. The latest outburst began as 16 people were shot over Labor Day Weekend, six fatally.
There have been similar outbursts this year: Fourteen killings were recorded May 13-26, and a dozen May 28-June 8.
None of this month's murders has been solved, but police said they had leads and were in a "good position" on some cases.
So far in 2012, there have been 150 homicides in Baltimore, putting the city six killings ahead of last year's pace. Police noted that earlier in the year, after a similar spike, the total was eight killings ahead of the previous year's mark, but eventually came down.
"We had a handle on that, we figured out what was driving that, and we brought it down," spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said of the earlier spike. "We're optimistic we'll do the same thing."
Deputy Commissioners Anthony Barksdale and John Skinner continue to manage the department as Commissioner-designate Anthony Batts prepares to take over on Sept. 27. The pair have been giving Batts regular updates, Guglielmi said.
Amos, 22, a teller at Sun Trust Bank in Essex, was cleaning up in the front yard after a party in the 4800 block of The Alameda when shots rang out at about 2:15 a.m. One struck her in the chest.
Police believe the shooter, whose identity is still unknown, was targeting someone else at the party, where between 80 and 100 people were gathered.
"She was an innocent victim losing her life," police spokesman Guglielmi said.
The grief and sense of loss shared at the Monday's service showed that the sudden death of Amos — a Girl Scout from grade school through high school graduation, a four-time class president at Kenwood High, a varsity volleyball player and a member of the National Honor Society — was an especially bitter one to take.
As friends and relatives, former classmates and teachers, took to the microphone and spoke of Amos' life, a portrait emerged of a young woman who had always been a leader and an inspiration to others.
Veronica Hines, a high school classmate, recalled the relentlessly positive young woman who had a gift for reaching out to others in need and who set the bar of achievement for friends. "I can't tell you how many people have said, 'She can make you smile through anything,'" Hines told the crowd.
Amos — known to friends and family as "Diva" — was already using text messages to badger everyone she knew to help her complete plans for the Class of 2008's five-year reunion next year.
"I never met anyone with such a passion for keeping in touch," Hines said. "She always said, 'Time doesn't wait for anyone.'"
Amos' best friend, Monica Jones, could barely get through her brief talk. "I love LaRelle. She has a heart of gold," Jones said, dissolving several times into tears. "I know she would want me to be smiling today. We have so many memories. But that's the only thing I can smile about."
Amos' pastor, the Rev. Kenyan K. Southers of Salt Nation Church in Brooklyn, said he had barely eaten for days.
"When I heard [the news], I thought of a whole lot of people that could have died — maybe that should have died," Southers said during his eulogy. "Then I looked at her life, and I thought, 'Of all the people in the world, why take this young woman at the height of her powers, this woman who had just had her baby, who was just beginning her career?' It made me question God."
When he prayed about what to say, Southers said, he was reminded of Job, the Old Testament figure who lost his possessions, his health and his family but kept his faith.
Mills, who moved with Amos and their son into a Rosedale apartment in June, met her in 2007, when he was a football star at Kenwood and she was on the volleyball team.
He told the crowd, which filled the pews of the church and spilled into the lobby, that his time with Amos had been the best five years of his life.
"We used to have this argument, once a week or so, about which one of us was more popular," he said with a smile. "I'd tell her, 'Girl, come on, I was the football quarterback!' But I look around at this crowd today, and I see it wasn't even close."
Mills said he had been planning to propose to Amos at Kenwood High School and marry her sometime next year. Turning to Amos' mother, Alisa Grinage, and other members of her family in the first two rows, he asked for their continued love and support, especially when it comes to raising Geron II, who sat in his lap for much of the service.
"[LaRelle] left me with our most prized possession — our son," he said. "Please keep me and him in your prayers."
The Rev. Bishop Moore, Amos' longtime music teacher at Stemmers Run Middle School, described her as an individual who always reached out to new students and who was a gifted peacemaker when peers had disagreements.
Though Amos was killed on an especially bloody weekend in Baltimore, few at the funeral seemed to see her death as signifying anything unique about the area. They saw larger implications.
"It's the state of what's going on, the times right now," said Moore. "First there was [the massacre at] Columbine. Now it's happening everywhere. Who'd have expected the shooting at Perry Hall [High School]? It's hitting everyone."
The Rev. Dr. William Gray III, pastor of St. Stephens AME, who presided over the service, said tragedies like Amos' death are less endemic to Baltimore in particular than they are the result of a general societal decline in young people's understanding of right and wrong.
"It used to be that they learned their values within the family or in church. Now, too many are learning them in the street," he said. "They've learned to 'satisfy myself.' If someone hurts their feelings, so many will kill without a second thought. This is one selfish world."
It has struck him and his colleagues in ministry, Gray said, that as many young people as older ones appear to be dying today — "and that is a complete and total change," he said.
When the service ended, Mills greeted long lines of well-wishers as he stood beside the hearse that would take Amos to her final resting place, Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore. Many hugged him, clapped him on the back or shared a brief prayer.
Mills said he has stayed in touch with detectives but has been told there are no new developments in the investigation since last week, when police asked the public to share any relevant information.
His son, he said, is doing well, but he believes young Geron senses that something is amiss in his family.
"It's important to keep this case alive and out there," he said, tears in his eyes.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this report.
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