Shoot to Kill: Baltimore ranks as most lethal among nation's largest cities

Homicide victim 212 and my stolen car

Thelonious Monk was one of Baltimore's 344 homicide victims in 2015. 12 years earlier...

Last week, one of my colleagues at The Sun tweeted out the names of all of Baltimore's 344 homicide victims in 2015, and Thelonious Monk — No. 212 by most counts — caught my eye.

Thelonious was a young black male killed by gunfire, placing him among the vast majority of the people killed here last year. He died on Aug. 26 after being shot in the chest at least once in Southwest Baltimore; he was 28.

In August of 2003, a prosecutor had called to tell me that my stolen car had been recovered and that the perpetrator was a juvenile by that name. I can't be certain it was the same person, though he was the right age — just 16 at the time.

My car was stolen one summer night after someone fished my keys out of the night drop of an auto shop on Howard Street. I felt victimized and was worried about my car and car loan, which I was still paying off. But everyone in Baltimore has a crime story, and many are much more catastrophic and scarring than a stolen Nissan Altima.

In the end it was barely an inconvenience, such is my solidly middle-class life. My car insurance quickly covered a loaner car. My wife and I went on a long beach vacation as we had planned. My parents offered to lend me a car, I took the train to work, and I rode my bike around town. I had a network, savings, family support and a backup plan.

I received a call a few weeks later that my car had been found and was at the Baltimore City impound lot, a sprawling complex of junked cars and confiscated dirt bikes. A prosecutor said a boy named Thelonious Monk was arrested while driving my car and explained that while he likely wouldn't be charged with this crime, the young man was in serious trouble with the law and wouldn't see the streets for some time. This seemed fine to me.

I went to the impound lot, recovered my car and drove to Lake Roland — what I considered a peaceful spot — to assess the damage. I saw that the thief had cut my steering wheel and lightly smashed my bumper. I also saw that he had installed a baby seat and a subwoofer and that the car was strewn with job applications from Pizza Hut and other fast food restaurants.

It was, and remains, one of the most heartbreaking scenes of my life. Our lives crossed, however oddly and briefly, and I can't help but think that he probably never had a chance — a chance to escape or a chance to succeed. He likely never had the opportunities I have always enjoyed: a safe neighborhood, good schools, a non-negotiable college education and easy entrance into the job market as a result.

I originally published a shorter version of this essay on social media last week, and since then I have heard from many people who knew the Thelonious who was killed this year, including his sister, cousin, the mother of his child and a Baltimore City public defender.

The Maryland Judiciary Case Search database shows that Thelonious Monk had been arrested many times in his short life for theft, assault, attempted murder and drug charges and served time at Jessup Correctional Institute and the Cecil County Detention Center. But many of those who reached out stated that he was trying to get his life back on track despite bad choices in the past and that his loss has affected his family deeply. He has a newborn child he will never meet. It is obvious from these messages how these murders of young men take a particularly personal toll on those who have maintained hope and tried to help along the way.

After publishing the story on The Sun's website, Thelonious' mother called and insisted that her son had not stolen my car, but because juvenile records are sealed and I was told he wouldn't be charged with the theft anyway, I have no way to know for sure.

But I can't help but wonder, if he was the one who took my car, was he trying to make a break for it? I wish he had made it.

Rest in peace, young man, I will never forget you.

Adam Marton is the senior editor of interactive design at The Baltimore Sun; his email is amarton@baltimoresun.com.

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