By Justin George and Colin Campbell, The Baltimore Sun
10:10 PM EDT, May 28, 2014
Paramedics carried 12-year-old Shanizya Taft away from a crumpled silver minivan in East Baltimore Tuesday night. She was a fashionable and respectful sixth-grader who her teachers said always made the principal's list for good students. She would soon be pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Across town in Southwest Baltimore, the family of 16-year-old Oscar Torres planned his funeral around a cross of rose petals they had laid near prayer candles on the living room floor. He was shot to death early Monday four blocks from his home.
Police say one man was responsible for the deaths of both children. He became the department's No. 1 target on Wednesday. Officers spread across the city to find him.
His identity remains unknown, but police believe the same man robbed and killed Torres early Monday, stole the car he was riding in and then crashed it into the minivan that carried Shanizya on Tuesday night.
"We desperately want to find this guy," Baltimore police spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said Wednesday. "We know that he's injured. If anybody knows who he is, if anyone has any information, we want to get this guy before he takes another life of a child."
As neighbors of Torres passed out red carnations during a vigil at the site where he had been killed, officers could be seen just up the block on South Mount Street stopping suspicious cars and searching occupants.
"We know someone is out on the street and suspected in two juvenile homicides," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "It is very important to me that this person is apprehended as quickly as possible before any other young person is hurt. It was a horrific accident and a tragedy for that family."
The events began in the early morning hours Monday. Police say Torres was riding in a white Ford Fusion about four blocks from his home when an armed man approached, robbed and shot him and an older friend. Doctors at a local hospital pronounced Torres dead. Police did not release the name or condition of the other victim.
Police say the gunman took the car and fled. Investigators released the car's description to media outlets. They say it had Illinois plates.
Nearly 24 hours after the shooting, Kowalczyk said, officers in the department's Special Enforcement Section police officers in plain clothes saw the car in East Baltimore and followed it.
Kowalczyk said the officers did not pursue the car. Witnesses told The Baltimore Sun they heard the speeding Ford, followed by police sirens, and then the smash of a collision. The car slammed into the minivan at the intersection of East Preston and Aisquith streets.
One witness compared the sound to a "bomb or a grenade."
Onlookers rushed into the street to help the woman, Shanizya and her 4-year-old sister out of the crushed minivan. Witnesses said the man in the Ford limped away, heading west from the 1100 block of E. Preston St.
Two occupants got out of the minivan, witnesses said, while one passenger had to be cut out of the vehicle.
Family and friends attended a vigil at the crash site Wednesday evening. Shanizya's great-grandmother, Catherine Wheele, said Shanizya's mother continues to be treated. The 4-year-old has been released, Wheele said.
Shanizya, called "Mink" by the family, was an A student at Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle School, Wheele said.
Louise James, another relative, said the girl "hadn't even started living yet."
"I pray to God he gets caught," James said. "He's now killed two people."
Christienne Warren, the principal at Coldstream Park, called Shanizya a "great student, very bright, very respectful mannerable, liked by all, always on the principal's list."
The girl was known for her fashion sense. She often donned a blue vest to give her school uniform some flair. She was also part of the school's Kidcasters morning announcement team. She was in the robotics club, Warren said, and excelled in engineering, math and science.
Students and faculty met Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to properly mourn the girl. District officials sent grief counselors to the school, and Shanizya's classmates decorated her desk with letters they wrote to her and her family.
In Southwest Baltimore on Wednesday, a group of 20 neighbors and friends from Union Square stood in front of the Viva House, a Catholic Worker soup kitchen and food pantry. They surrounded a sandwich board sign that read "Oscar Torres. Presente!" and sang "Amazing Grace." One read the 23rd Psalm in Spanish.
Torres had been found outside the Viva House. Co-founder Brendan Walsh said his group would try to help the Torres family with funeral expenses. A friend set up a donation box at a nearby 7-Eleven and a "Funeral Expenses for Oscar Torres" page appeared on gofundme.com.
The family hopes to send Torres' body back to his native Mexico for burial.
Torres attended Patterson Park High School before dropping out. His family said he wanted to work to help his family move into a bigger home. His parents — a construction worker and hotel housekeeper — said he gave cash he earned at a D.C. doughnut stand to his parents.
"I don't want the case to close, I want the killers of my son," mother Ernestina Torres said.
Julio Torres, 17, said his brother loved soccer and Air Jordan shoes and aspired to be a firefighter.
If that didn't work out, Julio said, he wanted to become a tattoo artist. The teen had tattooed the names of his family members on his body. He designed the "Torres" etched on Julio's left shoulder.
On his Facebook page, Oscar had posted several photos of his artwork, including crosses, roses, winged hearts and a spray paint can.
Oscar often urged his introverted brother to be more social.
"We'd just sit down here and he'd buy some soda and chips and we'd talk about all the things that we've been through," Julio said. "Best brother I ever had."
Then he paused.
"Only brother I ever had."
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