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Carmen Rodriguez worked seven days a week, nearly 16 hours each day, at the Kim Deli & Grocery near Patterson Park to make ends meet for her children.

“She tried to make an honest living, she tried, she tried hard," the store’s owner Nidal Alshalabi said.

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Rodriguez was at work again Sunday evening, along with her children, when, Baltimore Police, said an unidentified gunman walked into the crowded store and opened fire.

"They all were inside with her yesterday. They all witnessed,” Alshalabi said.

Rodriguez, 36, is one of the latest of the 338 people slain in Baltimore this year. Police said Rodriguez was killed Sunday, the same day seven people, including three teenagers, were shot outside a downtown hookah lounge. Two others were shot and killed Saturday in East Baltimore.

With eight days remaining this year, Baltimore’s unrelenting pace of killings and rapid population decline has set a record for killings per capita. The city’s highest number of homicides was 1993, when 353 people were killed and the city had more than 100,000 additional residents.

Nidal Alshalabi, owner of Kim Deli and Grocery said Carmen Rodriguez would work close to 16 hours a day to make ends meet for her four children. She was killed inside the store Dec. 22, 2019. Nidal Alshalabi was standing outside his business, Kim Deli and Grocery, inside the area where police tape, balloons and teddy bears surrounded him and a police car was sitting on the side of the curb.
Nidal Alshalabi, owner of Kim Deli and Grocery said Carmen Rodriguez would work close to 16 hours a day to make ends meet for her four children. She was killed inside the store Dec. 22, 2019. Nidal Alshalabi was standing outside his business, Kim Deli and Grocery, inside the area where police tape, balloons and teddy bears surrounded him and a police car was sitting on the side of the curb. (Phillip Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

“It is extremely sad and frustrating for the city to be at this point," City Council President Brandon Scott said Monday.

Scott, who is running for mayor, praised police Commissioner Michael Harrison for creating a long-term plan to address crime, but said the city needs to develop a complementary plan to help at-risk youth, people who have recently been incarcerated and others at risk for violence.

"We have to have a comprehensive approach,” he said.

Harrison said in a statement: “I am disgusted by the brazen and cowardly acts of violence committed this weekend. Detectives are working tirelessly to identify the people responsible. We will continue through the holiday season with our planned, robust deployment throughout the city.”

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Sgt. Mike Mancuso said Monday that Harrison is “the wrong police commissioner for Baltimore.” Mancuso has been increasingly critical of Harrison, who was sworn in as the city’s top cop in February.

Mancuso said the department’s leadership has failed to act with urgency.

“People are being killed at a record pace and there has been no change in the daily crime fight from the [police commissioner] since he arrived," Mancuso said. "He has chosen a four- to five-year plan. We need a leader to protect the citizens of Baltimore today.”

Harrison has spoken regularly about the city’s culture of violence, which he’s said must be addressed to help reduce crime.

Flowers were placed at the entrance of Kim Deli & Grocery after Carmen Rodriguez, 36, was shot and killed inside the store Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019.
Flowers were placed at the entrance of Kim Deli & Grocery after Carmen Rodriguez, 36, was shot and killed inside the store Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Phillip Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

As Baltimore grapples with the pace of murder, the city also is dealing with a federal consent decree that mandates sweeping police reforms after the 2015 unrest and resulting civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. Harrison was brought to Baltimore from the New Orleans Police Department, where he successfully led a department through a similar federal consent decree.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the rate of violence is “completely heartbreaking and unacceptable,” but that the mayor and police department are working every day to reduce the violence.

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While some, including the police union and mayoral candidates, have criticized the department’s leadership as being too focused on policing reforms, Davis said Young was and continues to be the biggest supporter of reform.

“There’s not a single person who fought for the consent decree more,” Davis said.

"As people have more faith in the department, they are going to be more willing to step forward” as witnesses, he said.

Asked whether the mayor has specific reduction goals for the police commissioner, Davis responded, “we’re working every day to drive crime."

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, the council’s Public Safety committee chairman, said “the level of brazen violence is unacceptable" but that the department must focus on solving crimes, which ultimately will reduce crime.

The city’s Southeastern and Eastern districts have seen big upticks in violence this year. The Southeastern District, where Rodriguez and two others were shot this weekend, had 12 homicides last year, and 31 so far this year, while the Eastern has had 52 this year, 10 more than all of last year.

The Western District has had the highest number with 59 homicides.

More than 100 victims have ages 18 to 25, and 37 have been women, the most since The Baltimore Sun started tracking homicides in 2007.

The day before Rodriguez was killed, police said, Destiny Harrison, 21, was fatally shot in the head several blocks away at the Madam D Beauty Bar in the 200 block of N. Milton Ave.

Patrick Gram, who was watching television with his wife, said he heard four gunshots and, three to four seconds later, he heard some more.

Gram stepped outside to find an ambulance arriving and police officers blocking off the area with yellow police tape.

“I pretty much knew 100 percent they were gunshots and I knew that they were really freaking close,” said Gram, who moved to Baltimore in March and has heard gunshots near his home before.

Gram said he then saw Harrison being wheeled out on a stretcher and she was covered with a white blanket.

He remembered seeing Harrison drive to the shop in a red Mercedes-Benz, often with her young daughter in the car.

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