"I just saw him five hours ago before he got shot," Dante said. "Right here out on the porch. … We were talking about how Najee dances when he goes to parties."

Dante hung his head low as his mother, Bonnie Farrow, looked on. Farrow, a retired Baltimore police officer who served 24 years in the Central District and juvenile booking, had always worried whether the violence she saw on the job would ever touch her son and his friends.

"That was his best friend," she said. "They were together every day. They are typical kids. They weren't in any trouble. These are kids that eat dinner together, have sleepovers, play basketball and video games. Najee was just here eating dinner. Senseless."

When Dante came home to make himself a sandwich, Najee often came with him to rustle one up, too, Farrow said. When she made spaghetti last week, she found Najee sitting at her dinner table. When Najee's mother took him to get a haircut, Dante often went along to get a fade.

Late Easter night, Najee came over to Dante's house and grabbed a leftover plate of turkey, string beans, rice and gravy. No ham, though. "He said pig was the dirtiest animal to eat," Dante said.

Najee would say he was going to become a Muslim like his grandfather and jokingly gave himself the nickname "Big Pork." Dante and other friends also adopted nicknames like "Pedro" or "Knockers" and called their group "RICO."

Recently, Audris Pearson, 22, a sister of one of the boys, recalled that Najee had bet her $500 that Dante could beat her in a basketball game after she doubted the boy's skills.

That's how loyal the group was to each other.

"I'm hurt," Dante said. "It's changed the whole aspect of coming outside. We used to play on the basketball court until we got tired. So long, that our feet hurt and we limped home."

"Out of all my friends," Dante continued, "he was the first one I'd always go to tell something. He was across the street. He was close."

As Dante and his friends stood on the sidewalk, a group of Safe Streets anti-violence workers in orange shirts told the boys they would take them to Golden Corral for lunch and to talk.

The city-sponsored program, which uses reformed convicts-turned-street mediators to defuse neighborhood violence, said Najee's death put a stop to more than 200 days without a shooting on the Cherry Hill blocks that the group monitors.

One of the last victims shot and wounded in that area was a 9-year-old boy on Sept. 18, while 1-year-old Carter Scott was killed in the same streets on May 24 after a car he was riding in was shot up.

As Najee's friends split off late Tuesday morning to go back into their respective homes, Alvin Palmer, 62, walked by Najee's home. Palmer has lived in the neighborhood off and on for 58 years.

A police officer was guarding the house, and as Palmer strolled by, he shook his head and muttered a few words. Police sirens from an unrelated incident howled in the distance.

"Boy didn't deserve that," Palmer said. "14 years old."

Baltimore Sun reporters Carrie Wells, Erica L. Green, Justin Fenton and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justingeorge

Recent violence against youths

•Najee Thomas, 14, a Coppin Academy High School student, was found fatally shot in the head Tuesday morning in his home in the 600 block of Roundview Road in Cherry Hill.

•Michael Mayfield, 17, a member of Edmondson-Westside High's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, was fatally shot in the head April 16 in a minivan in the 2300 block of Lyndhurst Ave.

•Raysharde Sinclair, 18, who attended Friendship Academy of Science and Technology, was fatally stabbed April 14 in the 5100 block of York Road. One arrest has been made in that case.