Baltimore tops 100 homicides before end of April for first time in two decades

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Baltimore reached 100 homicides for the year before the end of the April.

Three new cases Monday pushed the number of victims counted for 2017 to 101.

Among them was a fatal shooting near the Inner Harbor before daybreak Monday. As police discussed that case in the afternoon, a man was gunned down in East Baltimore, in the same block as a new senior center that was rebuilt after it burned while under construction during the rioting two years ago.

"We have to engage this community or it's going to continue to be a bloodbath," said the Rev. Donte Hickman, whose Southern Baptist Church built the $16 million center.

Baltimore, which experienced record-high per-capita murder rates the past two years, had not seen 100 homicides before the end of April since 1998. Just three years ago, it took until July 4 for the city to record 100 killings.

Homicides are up more than 34 percent compared to the same time last year, and non-fatal shootings are up 27 percent.

"We're continuing to do everything we can to impact that number so it doesn't continue to grow," said T.J. Smith, the chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

He noted that the victims aren't just numbers but real people. The agency did not release names of any of the most recent victims.

The downtown shooting occurred around 4:30 a.m. at Calvert and Lombard Streets. Witnesses said they heard four gunshots. The intersection, one of the busiest in the downtown area, was closed briefly early Monday but reopened by the morning rush hour, leaving no clue for arriving commuters that a life had been lost there hours earlier.

Police said the 33-year-old victim was with a group who had left The Block, the city's adult entertainment district. A motive for the shooting was not known, but Smith groused that the strip club hub had been a "source of frustration" for police.

As police spoke to reporters about the downtown homicide, detectives were arriving on scene of another fatal shooting in the 2000 block of Federal St. in East Baltimore's Broadway East neighborhood.

Few details were available. Police said a man was found around 1:30 p.m. with a gunshot wound to his upper body, and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The block where the shooting occurred has been one of the city's most blighted but has been experiencing a rebirth with redevelopment and other projects in the works.

Hickman, pastor of the Southern Baptist Church, said the problems are no longer receiving the international attention they did after the unrest sparked by Freddie Gray's death from injuries sustained in police custody, but the underlying issues of poverty and injustice remain.

The church has made rebuilding the neighborhood and restoring its community its central mission, the pastor said. A major problem for Broadway East and several of the city's other underprivileged neighborhoods is nearby methadone clinics, which help those struggling with addiction but also tend to have a depressing effect on neighborhood development, Hickman said.

"If we're just offering bars, abandoned properties and vacant houses, which contribute to an environment of poverty, we're perpetuating the criminal, violent ethos we're experiencing," Hickman said. "You're just mixing a number of volatile ingredients in a pot, and this is the stew you get."

Hickman also suggested that the Eastern District Police Station on Edison Highway be relocated to a more central location in the district, with recreational sports activities available for children to enjoy and get to know officers in a positive light.

"The police department, quite frankly, has an almost impossible job," he said. "What can they do? Lock up more people? We need to situate them in a place where they can be a community agent and neighbor."

"The city is on fire, and we have to come together with our hoses and put it out," he said. "I'm not cynical. I'm not pessimistic. I'm very optimistic, and I'm very serious about doing our part to change our communities. We're going to see this change and be a model in East Baltimore. It's only pushing us further to do what we have to do."

The city nearly got through the weekend without a homicide. From Friday evening to Sunday night, the city saw a handful of shootings, none of them fatal.

Then, 20 minutes before midnight Sunday, two men were shot in the 300 block of S. Calhoun St. in the Mount Clare neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. A 38-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene, and a second was critically injured and taken to a hospital for treatment, police said.

On Monday, police also added a 2007 shooting victim to this year's list of victims: An autopsy concluded the Feb. 2, 2017 death of Derrell Smith stemmed from complications from his injuries when he was shot in Aug. 6, 2007 in the 300 block of E. 21st St., police said.

Smith had cerebral palsy, and authorities said Aaron Speaks crept up behind him and shot him one time at close range in the back of the neck. The shooting left Smith paralyzed from the neck down, and a year later he remained on a ventilator and unable to speak without medical intervention.

Police at the time charged Speaks with attempted first-degree murder in connection with the shooting, and he was convicted by a jury of attempted first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Police said they are conferring with prosecutors about whether to file additional charges against Speaks after Smith's death.

Anyone with information in any of the above shootings may call Metro Crime Stoppers tip line: 1-866-7LOCKUP. Homicide detectives may be reached at 410-396-2100. Tipsters may also text information and video to 443-902-4824.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

@cmcampbell6

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