It had been just two hours since Damond Williams Sr. heard from his 16-year-old daughter, and he knew something was wrong. The girl was a homebody, a standout student. She was rarely out after dark.
Diamond Williams' family launched a search of their Northwest Baltimore neighborhood. They quickly located her after midnight Friday in a stairwell just blocks from the family home — close to death with her throat deeply cut. She would die within an hour.
"I found her," Williams said Friday afternoon, fighting back tears on the family's front porch.
Police believe a 19-year-old man, Shaquille Anthony, is responsible for the death of the rising junior at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School. He committed suicide near a basketball court in North Baltimore not long after Diamond's body was found, authorities said.
"We know that they knew each other for a couple of days," said Sgt. Eric Kowalcyzk, a police spokesman. He did not provide additional information about their relationship, saying detectives are still investigating.
Teachers said Diamond was enrolled in a nursing program and was a cheerleader. She was a member of the school's modeling club and had acted in two school plays, including "Annie," this past year. Her mother said she wanted to pursue a career in theater.
"She was one of the sweetest, best kids I have ever met," said her English teacher, Alicia Van Wert. "I loved having her in class every day. She was going places."
Family members said they suspected the involvement of Anthony, who lived nearby. They said he had shown interest in the teenager, and Diamond had been heading to his house, distraught, the last time anybody saw her.
"My son actually followed her down and told her to come home, but something had her upset," Damond Williams said. "So there are a lot of missing pieces to this puzzle, because she never storms off."
A woman who answered the door at Anthony's home declined to comment.
According to police, Diamond was found near the 3100 block of Liberty Heights Avenue on the southern edge of the city's Ashburton neighborhood about 12:50 a.m. She was pronounced dead at a hospital about 1:18 a.m.
Anthony was found near a basketball court off Tunbridge Road around the same time. Kowalcyzk said several people called 911 and reported that a man had a gun and was telling people to leave.
On Friday, blood still stained the stairwell to a basement behind Salon L in the Ashburton Shopping Center. Julie McConnell, whose family owns the business, said she had seen Diamond's father and another man looking around the back, trying to find something that belonged to the girl.
"He was walking back and forth. He was so distraught," McConnell said. "I don't even know if he knew what I was saying. I feel so sorry for the family."
Damond Williams said police have handled the investigation "poorly."
Shortly after he'd determined she was missing, he filed a missing-persons report, he said, a step police confirmed. But he said police treated the case as though "she was just a typical teenager out running the streets," he said.
"They didn't even open up a search party, didn't even put up a helicopter," Williams said. "They leave you to go and find your own child."
Kowalczyk said officers followed proper protocol when they took the missing-person's report and had broadcast information about Diamond Williams to fellow officers throughout the city. The department's "thoughts and prayers" are with the family, he said.
"A family lost a loved one, and any time that happens, it's a terrible situation," he said.
City Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents the area where Diamond Williams was found, called the killing "a cowardly act" and noted that there has been a rash of women killed this year. "It's just disgusting," he said.
A total of 20 women and girls have been killed in Baltimore this year, compared with 22 all of last year, 17 in all of 2011, and 19 in 2010.
Recent victims include 40-year-old Natasha Bates, killed along with her brother in a double shooting in West Baltimore on July 10; Lakeisha Vannison, who police say was killed by her boyfriend in the 1000 block of Pennsylvania Ave. on July 5; and Karolina Derezinska-Szkiluk, 38, who police say was killed by her estranged husband in Highlandtown on June 29.
In addition, Gennie Shird, 20, was one of three women shot on a porch in Northeast Baltimore on June 27, and Donyae Jones, 18, was one of five people shot on North Kenwood Avenue June 22.
Terrena Williams, Diamond's mother, said her daughter grew up in the family's neighborhood and thrived at Mergenthaler.
"Diamond was the sweetest person you could know," she said. "She had a good head on her shoulders."
Van Wert, her teacher, described her as a particularly compassionate teenager who volunteered to take charge of two elementary students at the Special Olympics this year.
"She built a relationship with them within the first 10 minutes she was there and set a good example for everyone."
And when the petite girl studied the Holocaust this year, she pleaded with Van Wert to arrange a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington because she had never been there. When she got there, she was fascinated by the exhibition. "She was very curious about things all the time," Van Wert said.
"She was one of our most promising students," said Angel Watts, an emergency room nurse and a nursing teacher at Mergenthaler. "She had this bubbly, upbeat personality."
When Diamond walked through Mervo's halls, Watts said, she would always say hello, even if she had seen that person a half- hour before. Williams was in a training program to become a nursing assistant and was one of the top students in the class that Watts co-taught.
Watts said Diamond had supportive parents and came to school every day. She was "eager to do what she needed to do to stand out" in her classes.
"She was one of those kids who everybody spoke to. She was such a pleasure to teach. I can't believe this happened to her."
Both teachers said they were shocked. "It just doesn't add up. She seemed like the girl who would stay as far away from anything that seemed like trouble" as she could, Van Wert said.
Damond Williams said his daughter was "bubbly, eager, very opinionated" and was "a mother to all her little cousins, and even some of her big ones."
Many family members live in Baltimore, he said, and they are close-knit. Terrena Williams said her son, 13-year-old Damond Williams Jr., is struggling to cope with the news.
"It's hard for everybody," she said.
"She is just such a good kid. She is going to be missed by a lot of people," said Van Wert.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.