Tricia Brown-Church and her daughter knelt by a curb next to a playground in Annapolis Gardens and dug a small hole in the ground.
Brushing aside dry grass, they placed a shiny stone plaque marking the memory of Camarin “Peeboo” Wallace, a 14-year-old who was shot by the playground on July 27, 2020.
Brown-Church recalled hearing the faint gunshots from her bedroom that summer night. She assumed the sounds were leftover explosives from the July 4th holiday, never imagining it was her child being gunned down a few yards away from his home.
A year has passed since Camarin was spotted, chased, and shot in the back by the playground in front of a group of kids. He died later at a hospital. Despite forensic and video evidence of the crime, Annapolis police don’t have a credible witness willing to identify a suspect at trial, they said. No arrests have been made in his case.
But streets talk. Brown-Church said at a vigil for her son Tuesday that she has an idea of who took her son’s life. So do police. Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson and Deputy Chief Stanley Brandford said in an interview Tuesday they know who killed Camarin. They just don’t have the witness testimony to prove it.
Brown-Church moved out of the neighborhood the day after Camarin died. Annapolis police operate surveillance cameras around the city, but some in Annapolis Gardens weren’t working the day of the shooting. If she had known the cameras didn’t work, Brown-Church said, she wouldn’t have moved here. She no longer felt safe.
Camarin’s open homicide investigation is a maddening reality, his family and Annapolis Gardens residents said. The apparent lack of witnesses to come forward with information into the 14-year-old’s death is markedly different from the homicide investigation of Michelle Cummings, 57.
Cummings was struck by a stray bullet while sitting at a patio area outside the Graduate Hotel in Annapolis early in the morning of June 29. She was visiting the city to drop off her son at the Naval Academy for Induction Day. Angelo Harrod, 29, was taken into custody on an open warrant 10 hours after the shooting and charged with her murder two weeks later.
The targeted shooting of two victims on Pleasant Street that strayed a bullet toward a downtown hotel and tragically killed a visitor of the Naval Academy generated tremendous public interest, a large reward money offering, and a quick arrest.
But for the mothers of children killed in the city they live, the disparity between a swift arrest in Cummings’ killing and their loved one’s unsolved homicides creates a cynical impression of being undervalued and ignored.
“(Cummings) was on the news every day. I felt like coverage and attention on (Camarin’s) case lasted for five minutes,” said Shauna Beverly, his aunt. “I feel like he’s now a file sitting on somebody’s desk.”
Jackson and Brandford rejected the notion that police poured more resources into solving Cummings’ homicide. Rather, more residents stepped up to provide information about who shot an innocent victim from out of town that resulted in an arrest, they said.
Metro Crime Stoppers offered a $2,000 reward for information into the Camarin’s killing. Residents can donate money toward the reward, Brandford said, but questioned the need for a financial incentive to speak up about the murder of a child.
“People’s civic duties and responsibility to their communities, to me, should be enough,” Brandford said.
Camarin is one of Annapolis’ youngest homicide victims. He died during a violent weekend in the city last year. A triple shooting at a gas station on Forest Drive the day before left three people injured. One victim was airlifted to shock trauma.
The day after Camarinwas killed, another shooting occurred one street over in the Annapolis Gardens neighborhood. A 17-year-old was shot in the leg as children darted to shelter in nearby homes. Kids stopped playing outside that summer, neighbors said. No arrests were made in the 17-year-old’s shooting, which police believe was unrelated to Camarin’s death.
Deontae Simms, a 19-year-old from Annapolis, was arrested for the gas station shooting and charged with attempted first-degree murder. Despite people seeing the crime, uncooperative witnesses and grainy surveillance video resulted in Simms entering an Alford plea for first-degree assault. Simms’ plea maintains his innocence but admits the state’s evidence would likely result in a guilty verdict at trial. He was sentenced in May to 18 months in jail.
City residents are still grappling with a lack of justice for several young Black boys killed in gun-related violence.
Sixteen-year-old Elijah “E-Buck” Wilson was shot on a field between Harbour House and Eastport Terrace in July 2019. Wilson was shot two miles from where local rapper Edward Montre Seay (Tre Da Kid) was gunned down on Forest Drive a month before.
Wilson made it home to his mother before he was flown to shock trauma, where he died.
In November 2017, Terry Bosley, 17, was shot in the head in broad daylight while walking on President Street with his twin brother. His death felt like a turning point in the city, said Alderman Dajuan Gay, who represents Eastport, as Bosley’s friends created a mentorship program and the Eastport community started a year-long forum on gun violence.
“But we’re still here fighting,” Gay said. There have been no arrests in Wilson or Bosley’s homicides, although police have identified a suspect in Bosley’s slaying.
Annapolis saw its deadliest year for gun violence in 2016, a period marked by 10 murders – the most since 1975. Among the victims were 27-year-old Charles King, whose body was found in the woods near Tuckahoe Creek Court and Forest Drive, and 25-year-old Charles Carroll Jr., known as CJ.
King and Carroll’s cases are being investigated by Annapolis police’s two-person cold case squad. Police say they have two suspects but no eyewitness to identify who shot Carroll six times in his car in the Bywater Mutual Homes community on July 28, 2016.
Investigators have made progress on Carroll’s case this year, Brandford said, a line that his parents, Beverly Reed and Bishop Charles Carroll, have heard before. The dead end, police say, is convincing a credible witness to testify.
Chevella King, the mother of Charles King, said she knows the man who shot her son is locked up on another charge, the man who orchestrated her son’s hit walks free and the man who witnessed the murder refuses to cooperate.
King saw the witness in public and confronted him, she said, challenging him to speak up, but to no avail. Over the past five years, King urges local politicians to remember her son’s name, fearing his murder will be eclipsed by other city tragedies.
Jackson said a lack of trust between police and residents erodes their ability to solve crimes that would, in turn, create a better relationship with the community. In cases where the victim and suspect knew one another, police sometimes require information from confidential informants who fear for their lives.
And those who do testify have to return to their communities after a trial and survive.
“We could talk about relocation and a whole lot of other things but, to them, to be relocated and have to start a new life over for something that they didn’t cause, they just happen to witness, disrupts them, their relationships with family and friends, and people close to them,” Jackson said.
Waiting for justice
At Tuesday’s vigil in Annapolis Gardens, neighbors, friends, Brown-Church and her seven children, held onto large bouquets of white and blue balloons. The group clustered on the grass by the playground and prayed.
Bishop Charles Carroll called out to the group of Camarin’s peers and to God for justice.
“We pray if you know anything, seen anything, please, I beseech you, that you will come forward,” Carroll preached.
Grieving parents must balance the trauma of losing a child to a violent death and a continuous fight to push the police, the state’s attorney’s office, and the community to help convict their son’s respective killers.
Beverly Reed, CJ’s mother, constantly checks in with police about her son’s case. On the five-year anniversary of his death, she invited State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess and Annapolis cold case detectives to his vigil at Glen Haven Memorial Park, just a day after Camarin’s vigil.
Leitess explained to the small crowd that prosecutors need strong evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a person committed a crime as serious as murder. Otherwise, suspects could be convicted on a lesser charge or worse, acquitted.
“You only get one shot to prosecute someone for murder,” Leitess said.
Bishop Carroll, who started a violence diversion mentorship program for kids in Annapolis and Anne Arundel this year, led another prayer Wednesday before the group released white doves to honor his son.
The Morning Sun
“I think every day, someone took my son’s life, and no one is paying for it,” Reed said Wednesday. “I do think (justice) will happen. I’m waiting.”
Brown-Church now suffers from post-traumatic stress. The trauma of Camarin’s death caused her to lose some of her short-term memory. She can’t remember his funeral. Brown-Church and her children attend regular grief therapy session and carry Build-A-Bears that hold recordings of Camarin’s voice.
The family has weekly “Picnics with P” lunches at his grave on Sundays. Brown-Church plans to throw a “Peeboo Day” to celebrate his life on the last Saturday in July every year.
On Saturday, the second annual celebration, a marching band prepared to trumpet through the parking lot of the American Legion post on Forest Drive. Small business owners who are family and friends of Brown-Church sold food and branded “Pee World” clothes to kids in attendance. Camarin, dressed in a white Polo and edited to have angel wings, was pictured against a blue backdrop for photos.
Brown-Church is in the process of opening her own healthcare business in her son’s name this winter. It’s a plan she and her son dreamt up together.
“I’ve been telling the detectives from day one,” she said, “I really want justice.”