Family and friends of slain bus driver Craig Ray Jr. gathered Saturday for a cookout at Druid Hill Park to keep his memory alive five months after he was killed and a week before he would have turned 35 years old.
"Even in death he's still bringing people together," said Ray's grandmother, Barbara "Granny" Mallory.
Silver balloon letters spelling C-R-A-I-G bobbed in the warm breeze blowing up the hillside from the lake. Fluttering orange tablecloths covered picnic tables where Craig's parents, siblings, high school pals and relatives sat eating burgers, ribs, corn and other food and shook their heads at what many in attendance called his senseless murder.
Ray was shot in the back Feb. 24 after he called police on a Westport neighbor who refused to turn down loud music. He had asked the neighbor once about 11:30 p.m. because he needed to get up early for his shift as a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver. Ray was waiting for police outside the door of his girlfriend's home in the 2400 block of Wilgrey Court when a car pulled up and a man shot him.
Ray, 34, died about an hour later. Police have arrested Kevin Barnell Carroll, 34, of the 700 block of Cherry Blossom Way in Poppleton and charged him with first-degree murder.
Ruth Goode, Ray's mother, said she is following the case closely and will never miss a court date. The next one is scheduled for September, she said.
"I miss him so much," Goode said.
She said she intends to set up a scholarship in her son's name for students graduating from Ray's alma mater, Edmondson-Westside High School. "His name will live on forever," Goode said.
She intends to hold a cookout for her son next weekend to mark his birthday, July 25.
Ray's father, also named Craig, organized Saturday's event with his daughter, Tiara, because he is not sure how he will feel on his son's birthday. Experiencing life's routine events for the first time since his son's death has been a challenge that a 10-week course he took is helping him to manage.
"I have to find a new way to live without my son now," said the elder Ray. "For the first couple of months I thought it wasn't worth living. But he wouldn't want me to quit. I have to live to keep him alive."
With the song "Happy" playing from nearby speakers, relatives and family members posed for a photo holding the balloon letters spelling Craig's name.
After the photo, Goode walked off into the shade of the trees to compose herself. Later, she returned and said how sad it makes her to see the violence in Baltimore continue.
"I see it every day," she said. "When is it going to end?"