In 2016, Baltimore's second-deadliest year on record, bullets claimed targets and bystanders alike

Bullets hit targets and bystanders alike in 2016, Baltimore's second deadliest year on record

Thirteen-year-old DiAndre Barnes was fatally shot this summer when he was out late with a squeegee, hoping to make a few bucks washing windshields, his father said. The bullets weren't meant for him, but they ripped into him anyway, making him another bystander injured by violence in Baltimore's second-deadliest year.

"They don't care who they shoot anymore," said Ronnie Barnes, the boy's father, as he looked through his son's left-behind baseball gear. His son had a fantastic pitching arm, he said, but that promise is gone now. "They shoot women and children and everybody."

For the grieving father, Baltimore is a land of the dead and the wounded, drug dealing and no jobs, where gunmen have no conscience and where the system is so dysfunctional that it is somehow possible — as has been alleged in his son's death — for a man to rob someone, shoot at police, get arrested, be admitted to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, walk off without police knowing, and then kill a child on the street before being brought back into custody.

"He had no right to do what he did. You start killing people's babies, man, it's a problem. That was a child," Barnes said. "You don't do that. You don't take little kids out like that. That don't make any sense to me at all. Never will."

The man charged in DiAndre's killing, Anthony Jerome Clark Jr., is set to stand trial in February.

By the cool June night when DiAndre was killed, Baltimore had suffered more than 120 homicides in 2016.

By October, that number had doubled.

The total of 318 killings by year's end made 2016 the second-deadliest year per capita on record, second only to 2015, when violence spiked after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

The violence of 2016 flared up in normally quiet enclaves all across the city, but was seen mostly in the same downtrodden neighborhoods time and again. The Western District, for example, saw 60 homicides in 2016.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said a large percentage of the year's homicides involved shots to the head, indicating targeted attacks — a subject The Baltimore Sun explored in its "Shoot To Kill" series.

One in three people shot in Baltimore dies, The Sun found, making it one of the most lethal of America's largest cities.

Many other homicides in 2016 were the result of gunmen spraying bullets, sometimes at crowds. That was partly to blame for a 5 percent increase in nonfatal shootings over 2015, Smith said, even as homicides dropped by about the same percentage.

"We are certainly aware of the trends when you see three, four, five people shot in a single situation," Smith said.

At least 53 of this year's homicide victims — more than 16 percent — were killed in incidents where at least one other person was also killed or injured, according to a Sun analysis. Nonfatal shootings in which more than one victim was injured were also commonplace.

Over a two-day period last month, for instance, there were three double shootings, in which four people died. A week earlier, there was another double shooting in which both victims died, and a quintuple shooting at a bar in which no one died.

Labor Day weekend saw four triple shootings. Three of the victims died. Among the wounded were two children and two women in their 60s.

And a couple weeks later, in what police said was retaliation for one of those triple shootings, eight people, including a 3-year-old girl, were wounded in a single shooting.

Five people were shot and wounded at a vigil in July for a man who had been shot and killed the day before.

"This retaliatory violence has been a big driver in the murders" in 2016, Smith said.

Across the city, one out of every 2,000 residents was killed in 2016. Most were young black men, and most were shot to death. Many of the killings occurred in broad daylight.

Some of those killed were alleged gang members. Others were robbery victims. More than a dozen were children. One was a barber; another, a popular chef. One was known as the "Mayor of Brooklyn." Three were Morgan State University students. Others were high schoolers. Some were babies.

There were victims of domestic violence, robberies turned violent, drug deals gone wrong, brazen, assassination-style hits, and seemingly random attacks, police said.

Most of the people responsible for the killings in 2016 haven't been caught. The department's clearance rate for the year was below 40 percent. Homicide detectives are drowning in work, including from cases they didn't clear the year before, when the clearance rate was even lower.

It's something academics and the families of victims in unsolved killings think about often, they said.

"An obvious thing that the Baltimore [Police Department] is struggling with is the volume of cases versus the number of detectives and resources to investigate those cases," said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

"Surprisingly, there is not a whole lot of research that tries to connect the dots between unsolved murders and nonfatal shootings and how it relates to where violence is going," he said. "But my view of it is that if you don't bring shooters, killers, to justice, the street works that out — and it becomes this reciprocal pattern where violence spreads in almost a contagious way."

Kevin Wilder, a church deacon whose sister, Jennifer Jeffrey-Browne, 31, and her young son, Kester "Tony" Browne, 7, were killed in their home in 2015, said he feels the same way. That the killer of his sister and nephew is still free is a constant source of frustration, he said.

"Are the police putting resources into the homicide division to close some of these cases? When people think they can get away with something, they're not worried about it," Wilder said. "Baltimore City has so many cases coming in that each detective each week is booking new cases, and now there is no time to work the [previous] case they started on. Each victim's family feels the same way — that their case is being pushed under the rug."

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the council's public safety committee, said the decline in homicides from 2015 is not good enough.

He also said the responsibility for reducing crime is not all on police.

"We have to get better at policing, but we have to get better at other things as well. We have to stop treating violence like a pure public safety problem and start treating it like a disease" that affects everyone in the community.

Police and prosecutors have promised new initiatives to focus on repeat violent offenders and gun offenders. Critics have said it's the same old tune.

Smith, the police spokesman, said he knows people living in dangerous communities are scared and frustrated. Homicide detectives are frustrated too, he said.

Smith said Commissioner Kevin Davis is "working on some things to alleviate some of their workload" so they can spend more time on open cases.

But it will take cooperation from the public and others in the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, to turn the tide, he said. Those intent on committing violence in the city have to know that everyone is united against them, he said.

"It takes a concerted effort to drive down these numbers and get those trigger-pullers off the streets," he said. "Hopefully, that starts to be a message to the would-be trigger-pullers: that we're going to get you, that the community is fed up and that they are going to work with us to get you, and that there are going to be consequences for your actions."

krector@baltsun.com

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