A shooting early Friday outside a small inn and residence next to the Belvedere Hotel in the Mid-Town neighborhood left a 41-year-old man dead and another critically wounded, police said.
The wounded man was identified by Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association President Jason Curtis as 56-year-old Lawrence R. Peterson, the owner of the Empire House inn. Peterson is a well-known booster for the Mount Vernon area who is regarded by residents as its unofficial mayor. Friends also confirmed that Peterson was wounded.
"They really care about the community and making this place better," friend Stewart Watson said through tears, referring to Peterson and his domestic partner, Thomas Sabia. "I can't imagine why anyone would want to harm him in any way."
The man who died was not identified pending notification of his family. Neighbors said they believe he was a guest at the inn.
Sgt. Anthony Smith, a Police Department spokesman, said the two victims were outside the building in the first block of E. Chase St. about 4 a.m. when a man, who was accompanied by a woman, opened fire. He said investigators were unsure of a possible motive.
The 41-year-old victim was pronounced dead at an area hospital about 11 a.m. City police do not identify victims of nonfatal shootings but said the second victim was in critical condition.
The shooting stunned civic leaders. CityCouncilman William H. Cole IV, whose district includes nearby Mount Vernon, described Peterson as a "dedicated and passionate member of the Mount Vernon community."
"He is a friend, and I am praying for him," Cole said.
Neighbor Eva P. Higgins, a real estate broker, said Peterson was known to sit on the front steps of his elegant home and "hold court" with friends. She said she believes that's what he was doing when the shooting occurred.
Peterson moved to the city from Washington after acquiring the 9,000-square-foot, four-story brownstone in 1996. According to a 2002 New York Times article, he spent $80,000 and "countless days" working to upgrade and restore the structure, the former city home of 19th-century Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor William Pinkney Whyte.
"It's only appropriate that they would live in the original governor's mansion — they took on that persona," Watson said. "They're the linchpin. If I have Larry's number, I have everybody's."
Enamored with the city, friends said, Peterson and Sabia began trying to lure new residents, offering tours and letting prospective buyers stay in the home. In recent years, Peterson and Sabia began offering rooms for rent. They named it Empire House.
"It's a bed and breakfast — but a small one just getting started," friend Adam Blumental wrote in an email.
Police initially said they believed the shooting could have occurred during a robbery attempt but later backed away from that statement.
Gun violence is rare in the Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood, just north of downtown. Police records showed, however, that there have been at least 15 robberies there this year, including two since March in the 1200 block of Lovegrove St., which is one block north of where Friday's shooting took place.
This spring, community leaders pushed for a property surtax in the Midtown Baltimore Community Benefits District to pay for additional security cameras and safety patrols. The proposal, which was pushed primarily by residents of Charles North and Mount Vernon and also would have applied to residents in neighborhoods such as Bolton Hill and Madison Park, was voted down.
According to data posted to the city's OpenBaltimore site, there are no cameras in the Mid-Town neighborhood, though in December the benefits district was awarded $400,000 in grants for 10 or more cameras.
The unsuccessful surtax proposal would have added 175 cameras, connecting them to the Police Department's Citiwatch system, and increased security officer patrols from three to seven days a week.
On March 5, police said, a 67-year-old man and a 75-year-old man were walking in the block at about 8:50 p.m. when a man who indicated he had a gun demanded money. The victims gave up their wallets and the suspect ran away.
More recently, on July 2, a 25-year-old man reported to police that he was standing in the alley when four juveniles asked him for money. When he said he didn't have any, one suspect lifted his shirt, showing a gun in his waistband, police said. The victim turned over money, and the suspects fled. Neither case has been solved.
A 24-year-old man was also reported shot in late February while walking near the University of Baltimore campus. Police now say that shooting has been re-classified as self-inflicted.
In 2004, Peterson was profiled by Style magazine and billed as "every city neighborhood's dream: an uber-volunteer." He held potluck dinners and was involved in events such as the annual Holly Tour.
For decades before it was purchased by Peterson, the home at 9 E. Chase St. was the office of internist Dr. Philip Franklin Wagley, whose patients included writerH.L. Mencken, poet Ogden Nash, and others who traveled from across the world to consult with Wagley. At the time of Peterson's purchase, the house had fallen into disrepair.
Peterson fixed it up, and in recent years began welcoming visitors, billing Empire House as "your mansion in the city." A description on its website lists three rooms for rent — the Monument Suite, the Mansard Suite and the West Room — offering beds for $110 a night as well as monthly rates.
"We are both very proud of our neighborhood and city and will [be] happy to provide any help to make your stay in Baltimore a great one," Sabia wrote in an advertisement for the inn on a travel website.
The inn is just steps from one of the city's premier restaurants, The Prime Rib, and the popular Brewer's Art restaurant.
Peterson also served in 2010 as the campaign manager for Curtis, who lost in a bid for a spot on the City Council. Curtis declined to comment further when reached by phone Friday.
Police had Chase Street between Charles and St. Paul streets blocked off with police tape throughout much of Friday morning, but reopened the area around noon. Detectives were observed in the area into the evening, and two officers were walking a foot patrol at Charles and Chase.
Anyone with information was asked to call 410-396-2100.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun