Assistant Principal Jeremy Slack was standing in a parking lot outside Edmondson-Westside High School, talking with a parent, when gunfire erupted across the street.
He saw people scatter and, knowing there were likely students gathered at the nearby Edmondson Village Shopping Center, he sprinted across the six lanes of Edmondson Avenue.
Five students were shot in the parking lot of the Popeyes there, including sophomore Deanta Dorsey, 16, who was killed.
Slack described his decision to run toward gunshots as a simple one: “These are my children during the day.”
The West Baltimore school was hit hard by violence that early January day — part of a spate of recent killings of youths in the city, some near school buildings or during school hours, including Monday’s death of 16-year-old Izaiah Carter at a park next to Patterson High School. Five young people under age 18 have been shot to death since the start of 2023, horrifying the city and leaving schools like Edmondson on the front lines of trying to reach students.
Staff across the Baltimore City Public Schools strive to provide students with a learning environment that includes trauma-informed care and resources to help them grow into their potential — never-ending work in a city plagued by gun violence, systemic racism and poverty.
Making school a safe place is Edmondson’s No. 1 priority, administrators said. Recent tragedies only increased the urgency of that mission.
“You don’t get over it,” Principal Karl Perry said of losing students to gun violence. “Once you’re my child, you’re always going to be my child.”
By the Popeyes, after Slack ran over, he spoke with one student who had been shot but was conscious. He moved onto Dorsey, who had a very faint pulse, but was “still somewhat there,” the administrator recalled.
Slack, a former Army medic, said he heard Dorsey whisper, “Help,” and then nothing. He did CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the student until he couldn’t anymore.
The assistant principal still sometimes battles feelings of failure for not saving the 16-year-old’s life as he mourns the loss of a respectful student.
“That’s another young man gone too soon that had no reason to be gone,” Slack said.
That day, Dorsey’s schoolmates were kept in lockdown for more than four hours, with some gathered in the cafeteria where windows face the Popeyes parking lot. Slack returned to campus to help with dismissal after he shared information with first responders. Counselors and social workers offered their services in the days that followed, as members of the school community tried to grapple with grief.
Weeks later, just as students were beginning to smile and laugh again, Perry said, another of the school’s sophomores was shot and killed.
‘They just needed me’
News of the death of Andres Moreno Jr. reached the class of 2025′s assistant principal, Stacey Royster, on a Sunday night a few weeks after Dorsey’s killing.
She tried to be there for other students that Monday, but fell apart, unable to hold a conversation.
When Royster returned to school Tuesday, friends of Moreno’s flocked to her office to check on her. The students, who were stoic a day earlier, began to open up.
“They just needed me,” Royster said.
Royster and Perry, who have worked together for two decades, described a close-knit school community where students entering the building are guaranteed to get a greeting before class. Hall monitors sweep the aging hallways, sending students back to class to learn.
While students can be patted down and their bags searched at the door, a wristband that’s slipped on after a safety check often comes with a pat on the back or kind word.
When grief counselors from the outside came to the school, some students asked about the unfamiliar faces and indicated they preferred their Edmondson “family,” administrators said.
The school has a large presence in the community, with fans turning out in droves for its varsity basketball games — the boys’ team on Saturday claimed the Class 1A state championship — and the school establishing a food pantry for residents.
Violence historically has spared the Edmondson-Westside campus, which some attribute to respect for the school and Perry. The principal often can be found standing at the baseline of the Red Storm basketball court, greeting fans and former students with handshakes or embraces.
Students there are “resilient,” administrators said — even if they shouldn’t have to be.
In interviews with The Baltimore Sun, students described feeling safe at school, though many said they were more cautious about venturing across Edmondson Avenue to Popeyes or other businesses. Some said they were scared in the aftermath of Dorsey’s killing; others described the lengthy lockdown. Many said they could feel the staff cared about them and their safety.
“We’ve had circles where we talk about feelings and all that,” said London Rock, a 17-year-old sophomore, who added the school takes “precautions” to make students feel safe, such as ensuring those who enter the building are enrolled at Edmondson.
Jaleel Jaramogi, a 17-year-old junior, said it hasn’t been easier or more difficult since the shooting, and he doesn’t feel in danger at school. He said joining the track team this school year helped him feel more connected to the school’s culture.
Jaramogi’s father, Juba, said Jaleel was drawn to Edmondson for the school’s training in skills for trades, namely carpentry. When Juba once suggested the U.S. Department of Labor’s Woodstock Job Corps Center in western Baltimore County as an alternative, his son said he preferred to stay at Edmondson and give it a solid try.
‘These children are our future’
Dorsey had taken a chemistry test the morning before he was killed, and earned a grade of 95%.
His teacher, Grace Galarpe, remembers Dorsey leaving her class happy, with his familiar sweet smile. She’d praised him during his sophomore year for his academic improvements and leadership potential, she said.
“He came back strong this year,” Galarpe repeated several times in an hourlong interview.
In one sticky note Galarpe saved from an advisory class this school year, Dorsey wrote that when it came to time management, he planned to: “Stay on point.”
Galarpe said she’d point to the note whenever Dorsey arrived late, even if it was just two minutes after class began. He would simply smile, she said, and respond, “I’m working on it, Ms. Galarpe.”
“Just in the wink of an eye, it ends,” Galarpe said. “But if that could be extended, what a 16-year-old can do.”
Edmondson staff are haunted by the losses of Dorsey and Moreno, who Royster remembered as a “comedian,” often playing and laughing. Baltimore will never know the positive things both could have brought to the city, Slack said, or the potential contributions of other young men and women lost to gun violence.
“These children are our future,” he said. “They’re the future of this city.”
“I don’t know what doing better looks like, but there’s more that we need to do,” Slack added. “We need to find other outlets. We need to be stronger on a lot of different things, as a city. And we will. It’s unfortunate [when students are killed]. And it’s going to continue to be unfortunate each and every time.”
Moreno’s death, Slack said, reopened wounds. A community already grieving had to “take two steps back” and restart the process. The 16-year-old was killed Feb. 5, just over a month past Dorsey’s Jan. 4 homicide.
“There’s just no reason that any of them have to go through this,” Slack said.
The Evening Sun
After Dorsey’s killing, Baltimore Police released surveillance photos of two masked people running from the scene.
A 16-year-old was arrested and charged last month in the homicide. Police have declined to say whether they were looking for a second person. A motive for the killing has not been made public.
Edmondson-Westside hosted triple-header basketball games later the same day that police announced the arrest. The final game, senior night for the boys varsity, began with a moment of silence for a third student gone too soon: a player who would have been a senior now but was shot and killed in December 2021.
Last year, 21 homicide victims in Baltimore were under age 18, the highest number since 2019, when there were 22. There also were 68 children wounded by gunfire in 2022, the highest in the previous four years, according to police.
All the while, life goes on at Edmondson, with exams, games, music classes, greetings when students enter the building and the same ending to the afternoon announcements as Perry has done for years.
“One bell,” he says, “one love.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Lee O. Sanderlin contributed to this article.