In one Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, police and school officials take extra precautions as flying bullets stir fear

The 45-year-old mother was frantic. A man had been shot in the back in the middle of the afternoon Wednesday in her Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, and her sons’ elementary school, Brehms Lane Public Charter School, was approaching dismissal but was now on lockdown instead. She was late for work, but she couldn’t reach her 14-year-old daughter, who was also due home from school.

“I don’t know what is going on,” she said. “How are our kids going to be protected?”

“Ma, we heard the gunshots,” one of her sons told her that evening, as he described hiding in the back of a classroom. She shuddered.

The next night, the mother — who asked not to be named, for fear for her family’s safety — heard more bullets flying. Outside, four people had been shot, including a 16-year-old boy found in the same block as the school, according to police. The three others, all men, were hit a couple of blocks away.

“It’s a war zone out here,” the mother said, of this week’s violence. “You don’t get no sleep. They’re shooting at night. They’re shooting during the day. The [police] helicopter is shining light through your windows. That’s the last thing you see at night, and the first thing you see in the morning.”

With homicides at a record high and nonfatal shootings in the hundreds in Baltimore, residents in some of the hardest-hit areas are overwhelmed and fatigued. They’re fed up and want answers.

In Belair-Edison, around Brehms Lane, there is a palpable fear, said City Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the public safety committee and whose district borders the area.

Scott said word on the street is there’s a fresh beef that’s broken out, and the shootings are the result.

“It’s going back and forth right around there between two crews,” he said.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, who represents the neighborhood, said residents “are frustrated and tired of the violence.”

“You want to keep folks safe, and it just seems like they aren’t having any regard for anybody,” she said of shooters. “It’s been a sad week for Belair-Edison.”

City police did not respond to a request for comment on Friday morning.

Akil Hamm Sr., chief of city schools police, said his agency is aware and providing extra support to Brehms Lane, a traditional public school that was converted into a charter school in 2016.

"We will be monitoring intake and dismissal until further notice and increasing patrols throughout the school day,” Hamm said. “We will have detectives in unmarked cars onsite for dismissal as well.”

Hamm said Maj. Jeff Shorter, city police commander of the Northeast District, told him city police officers also will be “strategically assigned to the area to combat the current violence.”

Will McKenna, executive director of Afya Baltimore Inc., which operates Brehms Lane, said he and other school officials are “extraordinarily concerned” about all the recent violence.

“It just so happens that the school is in the heart of it, so we're deeply affected by it,” McKenna said of the violence. “This has escalated to a level that is beyond just community outreach. This is a real serious police issue.”

School officials are “taking multiple steps to ensure that the children are safe inside and outside of the school,” in addition to what city and schools police are doing, McKenna said. Teachers are having discussions with kids about keeping safe, and adult supervision outside the school will be increased in the mornings and afternoons.

In a letter sent home to parents Friday afternoon, Brehms Lane Principal Diya Hafiz noted the violence, some of the increased supervision and police presence around the school, the school’s lockdown policies and the availability of school social workers.

Hafiz recommended that students “go straight home after school,” and wrote that students “are encouraged to talk to their parents or other family members if they have questions about the violence in the neighborhood.”

On Monday morning, “teachers will talk with students directly about how to deal with distressing news,” Hafiz wrote.

The mother whose boys attend the school said she just wants the violence to stop. She needs a break.

“It’s very bad around here,” she said. “It’s terrible.”

Anyone with information about the recent shootings is asked to call Baltimore Police detectives at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7-LOCK-UP.

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