Their stories were different, but their message was the same: stop the violence.
Relatives and friends of murdered children gathered at Turners Station Park in Dundalk Sunday for Tariq's Memorial Cookout, an event launched four years ago by two Edgewood women who had both lost sons to violence.
With the cookout staying busy each year – about 200 to 300 people filled the pavilion Sunday – Daphne Alston, one of the organizers, said she is ready to move on from Tariq Alston's 2008 deadly shooting during a party at the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Hall and make some real changes.
"I freed myself from Tariq just this year and put my madness into action," Alston said, explaining she has stopped calling law enforcement agencies about her son's case, which remains unsolved.
Alston said the case that was presented to the Harford County State's Attorney's office determined the evidence to be circumstantial and no one has ever been charged.
"We want to change what our children are doing because we know we won't get that help," Alston said. "You have to give kids first what they are supposed to have."
Alston and Mildred Samy, whose son Samuel Horne II was killed in 2007, founded the group M.O.M.S. (Mothers of Murdered Sons) and have since added mothers of murdered daughters to the group.
Alston said she wants to work with the Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as churches and other groups, to reach younger children and help put them on a path where they hopefully will not be exposed to violence on the streets.
"We are going to start with littles," she said.
One of the families attending the cookout was that of Phylicia Barnes, a North Carolina native who disappeared while visiting Baltimore and whose body was found on the Susquehanna River in April of last year. Ms. Barnes was murdered.
Her aunt, Bonnie Brisco of Baltimore, teared up as she urged the crowd not to walk around with bitterness in their hearts and to forgive their relatives' murderer.
"Your family wants you to continue on, forgive that person," Brisco said, talking about Barnes' suspected killer. "I am praying that his soul will be saved by the almighty God."
Others were more grim about their situations.
Robin Gore, of Edgewood, is the mother of 21-year-old Alishia Dorsey, who was killed last month, allegedly by her boyfriend, as they drove to pick up their 13-month-old son in South Carolina, according to the Associated Press.
"I think every day I get angrier," Gore said. "I am trying not to hold on to it, but I got kids to raise."
Without Alston and Samy's group, Gore said she would not have been able to communicate with other parents.
"I hope it can stop the violence," she said. "Young kids have no regard for human life whatsoever."
Gore said young people watch too much TV and think murder is just fantasy.
"It's real life," she said. "Somebody needs to teach them a better way."
"I think about that a lot every day. I don't know what would make them stop killing each other," she continued. "Alishia worked every day, she paid the bills, she was a good person, so no one can get away from violence."
"I can't change everybody. The only thing I can change is my family," Gore said.
It was the first time at the cookout for Theresa Lewis, of Aberdeen, who was mourning her sons, Corey and Mendon, murdered in a double homicide in Edgewood in 2006.
"I am looking for justice to be done, but I know it will be done in its own time," Lewis said. "I have to move on."
Lewis said she is "hopeful" a suspect will be found and thinks violence may have subsided since 2006.
"A lot of things in Edgewood have died down," she said.
She came to the cookout for support - "just to let them know that we are all hurting" – and said coming together gives them all strength.
Her sister, Angela Harris, of Aberdeen, was wondering why more is not being done to combat crime, specifically why the Guardian Angels, a citizen-based crime watch group, has not been coming to Edgewood. Representatives of the group have previously met with local elected officials.
"What I feel is, they don't care. They are not doing everything they could do to help with crime and whatnot," Harris said.
The memorial service held during the cookout featured a number of spiritual songs and personal stories. Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane had been scheduled to attend, but Alston said he told her he could not make it.
The mothers and parents of murdered children were then presented with a small cross memento that had the child's name.
Tariq Alston's grandmother, Shirley Charles of Baltimore, read a poem that Tariq wrote from juvenile hall in which he foresaw himself lying in a coffin and regretted not listening to his mother.
"You should have listened to momma when she said, 'You think you're grown,'" Charles read from Tariq's letter.
Daphne Alston said she hopes the event can inspire people in her community to take matters into their own hands.
"Our purpose is to bring awareness to these communities about black-on-black crime and these senseless murders that happen every day in our cities and counties," she said. "This really is madness."
"We made it through slavery, we made it through the crack cocaine and now we need to make it through this senseless murder of our young people," Alston said.