Ellison McCall vigil

Floyd Benton Jr., center, Ellison McCall's friend, leads a balloon-release ceremony Sunday; family and friends had written sentiments on the balloons before releasing them into the night sky. A year after McCall was brutally murdered -- beaten, doused in gasoline and set on fire -- his family held a vigil on the street corner where he was killed. No one has yet been charged in his death. (Algerina Perna / The Baltimore Sun / December 18, 2011)

Friends and family of Ellison McCall Jr., who was brutally beaten and set on fire after earlier intervening in a bar fight in Northeast Baltimore, held a vigil Sunday to celebrate his life and press for answers on the year anniversary of his death.

"This was a good guy," said friend Floyd Benton Jr. "He had no enemies."

McCall, 30, was working as a bartender at the New Haven Lounge a year ago and got into an altercation with some patrons, friends told The Baltimore Sun at the time. It was believed that the men later followed McCall from the club to a house on the 1400 block of Homestead St. in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood, where they beat him, doused him in gasoline and set him ablaze.

Firefighters responded to a call about 6:15 a.m. and found McCall lying in a front room. No one has been charged in McCall's case, and the investigation is still open, police said.

His friends gathered Sunday night on the lawn of the house where he died, now boarded up, standing close to one another as the temperatures fell toward freezing. They held lit candles and bunches of snow-white balloons.

"El was a good man gone too soon," Benton said to the group of about 20 people. "It's just crazy that he's not here no more. … He could light a room up, just make you smile."

Others described McCall as kind and funny, a dapper dresser and an adoring dad. The night before he was killed, he talked lovingly of his little girl, now about 12, and his plans to see her over Christmas in New Jersey, where he was from and she still lived.

He had moved to Baltimore about two years earlier for work, an aunt, Estela Lee, said.

The group sang a hymn in his memory, "Blessed Assurance," and the Rev. Churchill Wortherly led them in prayer.

"Lord, we don't know why things happen, all we know is that we are victims… feeling the pain of another brother gone," the man said. "Teach us how to communicate not through the barrel of a gun" or violence, but through words — "to sit down and talk."

Benton and several others distributed the balloons, their silvery strings trailing through the grass, and asked onlookers to write messages on them to McCall.

"God forgive the killers," one woman wrote.

Then they gathered in a ring and set the balloons free, watching as they floated heavenward, until they were tiny white specks, joining the stars in the night sky.

Baltimore police urge anyone with information to call the Homicide Division at 410-396-2100.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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