Baltimore police spokesman holds tearful press conference after brother's killing

T.J. Smith, the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, regularly holds news conferences decrying the violence that destroys lives nearly every day.

He's spoken out against the tragic killings of children, women and the elderly — and so many young men.

On Wednesday, Smith held another press conference, but this time it was personal. There were tears. Smith was there to talk about the killing of his brother.

"I last spoke to my brother last week," Smith said, choking back emotion. "He has twins who have the same birthday as my son."

Dionay Smith, 24, was found fatally shot about 8 p.m. Sunday in his home in the 1400 block of Argyle Ave. in the Upton neighborhood of West Baltimore. Known as Dion, he was the 173rd person to be killed in the city in a year marked by a record pace of homicides.

T.J. Smith, 40, said the age difference between them didn't stop the men from talking regularly. They talked about being fathers. They joked about old photos. The older Smith recalled helping his younger brother pick out a suit and tie for job interviews.

"He wore that outfit so much," T.J. Smith said.

Smith said Tuesday his brother was "targeted," and called his killer a "coward." On Wednesday, he told reporters he believes someone who knew Dion took advantage of him.

"My brother had a very kind heart. It appears that someone he knows — that he probably was kind to — took advantage of him," Smith said.

At the Penn North Community Center where Dion Smith worked, many were in mourning. Ericka Alston-Buck, founder of the Penn North Kids Safe Zone, said the whole neighborhood was searching for his killer.

"In a community that typically says 'f— the police,' everyone wants to help the police find the guy who shot Dion," she said. "I find myself just saying out loud, 'Dion's gone.'"

He was beloved by students, Alston-Buck said. She posted videos on Facebook of Dion singing and reading to children. He worked with youths from 12 to 17 years old at the center, often helping them with math.

"Dion was always in my office on the computer finding math homework for everybody," she said.

When he became an intake worker for adults at the recovery clinic connected to Kids Safe Zone, children started a petition asking him to come back, Alston-Buck said. She posted a video of the kids chanting, "Dion! Dion! Dion! Dion!"

"He was always happy, always smiling," she said. "He was the best young father ever. Anyone who worked with Dion loves and misses Dion. There's no one, not even the shooter, who can say something bad about Dion."

Baltimore police say the shooting remains under investigation.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said at a press conference Wednesday that her "heart goes out to T.J. and his family."

She noted the police department has been making more arrests in homicide cases and said the force won't give up on finding the killer. Police have made 65 homicide arrests this year, compared with 34 through the same time period last year.

"We will do everything we can to solve these murders," she said of Dion Smith's killing and other recent deaths. The mayor then endorsed, as she has several times before, increasing penalties against those who carry illegal guns — a legislative change that would have to be approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

"I consider this emergency legislation: Make carrying illegal guns a felony in Baltimore," she said. "We need to take care of this city. We need to reduce the violence here."

As the media gathered around T.J. Smith at police headquarters Wednesday, he said family members of other murder victims in Baltimore have reached out to him to offer support.

"What really touches me is the outpouring of love from the community," he said. "I never took for granted that I was immune to" the city's violence.

Smith said he decided to speak out about his pain because he hopes to wake up the public to do more to help stop the killings.

"I don't mind being vulnerable," he said. "I'm going to be vulnerable because I think it's important. ... I hope that people can connect and relate and, more importantly, do everything they can to stop the violence."

Dion Smith's children — two boys and a girl, all 2 years old — had spent the day at their father's home Sunday, but left a short time before he was shot, T.J. Smith said.

"The day of the funeral doesn't end it for families. This goes on forever. There are children now without a father," Smith said. "I'm angry at the person who made this decision. The city didn't make this decision. The police department, the mayor, the City Council, no one made this decision but the person who pulled the trigger."

He said he spoke to his father and sister Wednesday morning.

"We don't deserve any more attention than the other families who go through this," he said. "Enough with the hashtags and the RIPs and the balloons and the T-shirts. Let's stop. It's up to all of us, especially the guys on the street, to say enough is enough."

Smith said he gets notified of every killing in the city.

"When I saw his name come across, I just knew," he said. Hoping, Smith called his younger brother's cell phone.

No one answered.

Smith said he wanted to give Dion one last hug.

"I didn't get a chance to do that," he said.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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