Baltimore City

A good deed goes bad

Ronald Jackson's bedroom holds the signs of a young, earnest life cut short too soon in Baltimore.

An unboxed computer sits at the foot of his bed -- part of a school project. A news article about a slain middle-school classmate is taped on one wall; a memorial T-shirt of his grandmother hangs on another. There's a television and Sony PlayStation, which he enjoyed playing with friends. A couple of small bags of chips and cookies still lay next to his pillow Monday -- junk food he had planned to eat before bedtime Sunday.

But Ronald never made it to bed. About 9:30 p.m., the boy's mother asked him to run a simple errand: take a bunch of grapefruit across the street to an elderly neighbor's house. Moments later, she said, she heard gunshots, looked out the window and saw a man running away and her son lying on the sidewalk, screaming for help.

"I heard him hollering, 'Mom, I got shot!'" said Patricia Grant. As she rushed to her boy on the sidewalk, he was still conscious and talking to her. She said he told her not to cry. But she did, as police rushed to the block and paramedics took him to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He died about an hour after he was shot, police said.

For now, Grant and Ronald's other relatives believe he was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity -- a tragic situation of a good deed met by violence. The shooting happened in the 1100 block of Myrtle Ave. in West Baltimore's Upton neighborhood, where Ronald had grown up.

The family called for justice and, less than 12 hours after Ronald's death, they invited local media outlets into their home for interviews.

Ronald was Baltimore's 221st homicide victim, and the seventh in seven days, according to figures compiled by The Baltimore Sun. He is also the city's 25th juvenile homicide victim and the fifth 14-year-old slain this year, the figures show.

Monday, Grant and her relatives and friends were numb from the shock of the loss of the boy they called Ronnie. The Booker T. Washington Middle School eighth-grader had two brothers and a sister. He was excited about drumming and had just been accepted into the school's marching band.

His uncle, Donald Grant, said he called him "Woo."

"He and my son grew up together," Donald Grant said, sitting next to the boy's mother on her living room couch Monday. His son is taking Ronald's death "really hard," he said. He said his nephew avoided gangs, drugs and violence, and police sources said he did not have a juvenile record.

"My sister can't get her son back, and I can't get my nephew back," Grant said. "We want justice done."

Terry Keels, who is engaged to Patricia Grant, said he has known Ronald for years and that he treated him like his own son. He showed a reporter the boy's bedroom, noting the awards for his schoolwork and the computer sitting in a brown cardboard box, unused.

The boy's nightstand was cluttered with a brush, deodorant, soap, lotion and papers. In a recent photo, he looks well-groomed and smiles brightly.

His bedsheets were rumpled, slept upon the previous night, but not by Ronald.

"The bed's a little messed up," Keels said. "One of his brothers slept here last night. He just wanted to be close."

The boy's classmates were shaken by his death. Two of his friends left school early Monday, and school officials made grief counselors available to the children.

"They were very distraught about his death," city schools spokeswoman Edie House said of the two children. "They have been with him through first grade."

Ronald was the second student from Booker T. Washington Middle killed this year. On April 14, eighth-grader Shawndreta Griffin was fatally shot at her boyfriend's East Baltimore rowhouse. Charles Jakes, 18, has been charged with first-degree murder. He told police her killing was a mistake, court documents say.

An article about Shawndreta's killing was taped to Jackson's wall. Keels said that Ronnie knew the girl and that she was a distant relative of the boy.

Aside from believing his death might be a case of mistaken identity, or possibly a botched robbery, Patricia Grant said she couldn't speculate why someone would want her son dead, and police declined to release a possible reason or motive.

Two of the grapefruits the boy had taken over to the neighbor's house remained on the top of the rowhouse's steps. Another two had rolled into the gutter. No one answered the door at the neighbor's house.

A splotch of dried blood on the sidewalk was the only outward sign of the violence that had occurred there the night before, which claimed the life of a West Baltimore boy running an errand for his mother.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.