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Baltimore ceasefire efforts continue despite fatal shooting Saturday morning

Activists rebooted Baltimore’s ceasefire weekend for a second time this year, aiming for 72 hours free of violence. But on the second day, when organizers encouraged residents to bring awareness to the city’s 300 homicides by decorating places where people have been killed, the organizers’ goal was thwarted.

An off-duty Washington police officer who lived in Baltimore was shot and killed early Saturday morning in the Panway/Braddish Avenue neighborhood.

But the ceasefire movement didn’t stop.

Around 2:30 p.m., ceasefire co-organizer Ellen Gee, dressed in white with burning sage in hand, circled the parking lot where the officer, Tony Anthony Mason Jr., 40, was found shot hours earlier. It was an unexpected continuation of the city-wide “smudging” that started Friday, in which about 25 people burned the herb in areas where killings or other violence occurred. Gee hoped the practice would free areas of stale or negative energy, she said.

Elsewhere Saturday, there were “vent booths,” where people could express their frustrations in writing or over a microphone, an art installation on Pennsylvania and North avenues, and a flash mob in the parking lot of Edmondson Village Shopping Center, where women danced to “Money Man” by Baltimore-based Peso da Mafia while encouraging others to join. And starting at 9 a.m., a daylong tournament “Hoop Don’t Hurt” held at Cloverdale Basketball Court in Penn North, attracted men of all ages for rounds of basketball, complete with referees.

The Rev. Edward N. Mason Jr., associate minister of Israel Baptist Church of Baltimore and co-organizer of the tournament, said the tournaments saw a court-full of people starting on Saturday.

“We thought that if we did something with the youth that they enjoy doing, then certainly two things would happen — they would not be victimizing others, and they themselves would not become victims,” he said.

Adam Brown, a teacher at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, also known as Mervo, invited his students to play.

“This is what my kids love to do, so if you’re giving them something that they want to do on a regular basis anyway, it keeps them busy and in a safe place,” Brown said. “And having the refs here is great, because it kind of diffuses any of the arguments that might start in a basketball game and evens the playing field.”

Sixteen-year-old John Benjamin, an 11th-grade Mervo student, was drawn in by the basketball, he said.

“It’s been good. I won a couple games. I lost a couple games, but I’m just out here to have fun,” John said. “...To bring the community together and do stuff like this — free food and basketball games — it’s a blessing.”

In many ways, this ceasefire feels different than the first, said lead co-organizer, Erricka Bridgeford, 45, of West Baltimore.

Bridgeford estimated that hundreds of people are participating this go round. Co-organizers distributed around 25,000 flyers and 2,000 posters. More planning this time has resulted in more community resources and events with secured locations, she said.

“People did outreach earlier, so way more people knew about the ceasefire,” said Bridgeford.

Still, she said, she was devastated by the violence.

On Saturday at about 12:45 a.m., officers found two shooting victims in the 2800 block of Elgin Ave.

Mason was found with gunshot wounds to his body, police said. He was a sergeant with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington and was off duty when the shooting occurred. The D.C. Police Union could not be reached for comment. He was taken to a hospital where he died from his injuries.

The second victim, a 43-year-old woman, was shot in her leg, police said, and treated at a hospital.

Police said investigators believe the victims were inside a parked car when an unknown suspect approached, began shooting, then fled, police said.

The Baltimore office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is offering up to $10,000 for information about the shooting.

The Metropolitan Police Department said Mason was a 17-year veteran of the force. He lived near the Frankford area of Baltimore, according to public records. There was no answer at the phone listed for the address.

David Simonetti, the director of the police academy at Hagerstown Community College, said he worked with Mason in D.C. from 2004 to 2009. He said Mason worked in the 6th District vice unit at that time.

“He was just the nicest guy — always happy to see you and greeted you with a smile,” Simonetti said. “He'd do anything for you, without having to be asked. He was a tough, fair, hard-working and diligent officer.”

Bridgeford said she has been following every killing since the first ceasefire and has shed many tears, especially after Saturday’s shooting. Yet Bridgeford said she saw hope. Ambitious initiatives like ending gun violence in the city don’t happen overnight, she said.

“We move forward with the understanding that if you’re going through [healing], some things have to get worse before they get better,” said Bridgeford, emphasizing that Sunday would bring new events, including a human chain at Edmondson Avenue and a panel held downtown.

“If you give up when things are really dark, you never get to see that things are going to get better right around the corner.”

The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this report.

bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto

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