'Kids don’t feel safe': Teen's killing shakes Southwest Baltimore neighborhood

Tarsha Smith’s 12-year-old son loves basketball. He often spends hours after school playing at the court across the street from their Southwest Baltimore home.

But on Tuesday night, the boy told his mother that he never again wants to shoot hoops at the Mary E. Rodman Recreation Center.

The rec center’s basketball court became a crime scene after police say a 16-year-old was shot to death there around 8:20 p.m. Tuesday.

Smith and her two young children were in their living room when they heard the gunfire ring out.

Shooters “don’t understand the toll it takes,” Smith said. “Kids don’t feel safe to go anywhere anymore.”

The 16-year-old was shot next to Mary E. Rodman Elementary School in the 3600 block of W. Mulberry St. in the Allendale neighborhood. Police said Wednesday that a gun and drugs were found on his body. They have not released his name.

He’s the second teenager claimed by gun violence in the city in less than a week, and the seventh so far this year. By this time last year, 10 teenagers had been killed in Baltimore.

“It’s just so sad,” said a 75-year-old woman who lives near the elementary school. “Young people just losing their lives before they even have the chance to experience life. It’s a waste.”

“You’re born to have aspirations and desires and to fulfill your dreams,” said the woman, who declined to give her name out of fear for her safety. “It’s all being snatched away.”

City schools spokeswoman Anne Fullerton said the district sent crisis counselors Wednesday to Mary E. Rodman Elementary and New Era Academy, a middle/high school in Cherry Hill. An assistant principal confirmed the boy was a student at New Era.

Jessica Wilson, a 17-year-old senior at New Era, said the teen was “really positive,” even when he was being “open about all the real stuff he went through.”

She said students are planning a candlelight vigil for him outside the school on Monday.

Wilson recalled how the boy would tell her and their other friends, “Be safe, I love you,” every time they parted ways.

“I felt sad and wanted to cry but just didn’t,” she said. “It happens every day. Murder in Baltimore is something you have to get used to, but that’s not right.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh said the boy had a criminal history. He was “not just somebody playing basketball on the basketball court,” she said.

She said the killing shows the need for more events like the job fair that the city hosted Wednesday for students leaving high school, which some 500 students were expected to attend.

“We have to engage our children in more positive activities,” Pugh said.

The killing Tuesday was the city’s 100th so far this year, the second-fastest pace of killings in the city in a decade.

The tally could change, because police say a fatal stabbing downtown early Monday — in which one man stabbed another man who was attempting to rob him — could be ruled a justified killing.

Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, said Wednesday the investigation is open and ongoing.

The city’s 100th homicide last year occurred on April 24. Before then, Baltimore hadn’t seen 100 killings this early in the year since 2007, when the 100th took place on May 7.

The recent burst of violence comes a few days before local anti-violence activists plan to launch another ceasefire aimed at stanching the killings. The ceasefire, scheduled to run Friday through Sunday, centers around a straightforward rallying cry: Nobody kill anybody.

“You can just sit back & wait for things to change, or you can be the change you wanna see. #BaltimorePeaceChallenge #BaltimoreCeasefire,” Erricka Bridgeford, one of the peace effort’s founders, tweeted Wednesday morning.

A multicolored poster advertising the ceasefire effort was taped onto a wall inside New Era’s front lobby.

The ceasefire this weekend will be the fourth held so far in the city. The last one, in February, was the first in which no one in Baltimore was killed for the 72-hour period.

Organizers say they pray the ceasefires bring hope to the Baltimore’s tired residents.

But for Smith, the 43-year-old mother who lives across the street from Tuesday’s crime scene, the violence in her neighborhood and across the city is becoming intolerable. Her two children were too afraid to leave the house Wednesday, so Smith walked over to Mary E. Rodman Elementary to pick up their books and makeup work.

Smith said she has no idea when her kids will feel safe enough to make that walk alone again.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

trichman@baltsun.com

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