The family of a 16-year-old boy who died after he and four classmates were shot at a West Baltimore shopping center gathered Thursday to publicly grieve Deanta Dorsey and ask the community not to forget his name, one among hundreds lost each year to the city’s violence.
“We are imploring the city to do their job. We are asking the police and the city leaders to treat this case like it is the most important one, like it was their child, it was their son,” said Thiru Vignarajah, a former Maryland deputy attorney general who on several occasions has represented families of crime victims pro bono. “Deanta Dorsey didn’t deserve this.”
Fifteen members of Dorsey’s family, who did not want to be identified due to safety concerns, held one another and cried in the light rain during Thursday’s news conference at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, where the shooting occurred the day before. Vignarajah, acting as the family’s spokesman, asked the city and media to treat the case with the same fervor they would apply if the victims were white teenagers from suburban Maryland.
Baltimore Police said that around 11:20 a.m. Wednesday two shooters approached a group of five male Edmondson-Westside High School students standing outside a Popeyes and fired at least 20 rounds. Neither shooter has been identified. Police released photos Thursday evening showing two masked men running on a sidewalk, asking for the public’s help identifying them in relation to the shooting.
Dorsey died at Shock Trauma, where he was taken with an 18-year-old whose condition is unknown. Two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old, taken to Sinai Hospital, are expected to survive.
Dorsey, a sophomore, was a “sweet boy who worked hard and didn’t get in trouble,” Vignarajah said.
The teen had several brothers and sisters.
“We are hurt with this senseless crime that has happened yesterday. Not just for Deanta but for all the other children involved‚” said Linda, Dorsey’s aunt, who declined to share her last name. “We ask for the neighborhood, the community, to continue to pray for each and every one of the families.”
Vignarajah described the shopping center as a perennial and predictable area for crime, but some residents of the Edmondson Village community who visited the center Thursday passionately disputed that depiction.
Those who come to the neighborhood to commit crimes “are not from our neighborhood. They have nothing to do with Edmondson Village,” said Travon Burrells, adding that Vignarajah’s depiction of the area “paints a picture of my neighborhood that’s wrong.”
Since the beginning of 2021, people have called 911 more than 200 times for incidents in the 4400 block of Edmondson Avenue, according to Open Baltimore.
Despite the violence that occurred the previous day, the shopping center was bustling on a rainy Thursday morning. But the Popeyes was nearly empty during lunchtime. Blood stained the sidewalk outside.
Ardelia Wilson stepped inside Popeyes, the only chain restaurant open on the strip, to order lunch Thursday after joining a prayer vigil in the parking lot.
Wilson was driving past the Popeyes on her way to a gas station Wednesday when the shots rang out. She glimpsed the masked shooters flee behind the building before she ducked down inside her car. Wilson parked and ran to help perform CPR on the teenage victims, who are her grandson’s classmates.
“I was scared. It was just a motherly instinct,” Wilson said of her decision to help the victims. “That could have been my grandchild.”
The Popeyes across the street from the high school is a popular spot where young people gather. City and school officials said they’ve repeatedly asked the business not to sell food to students during school hours but their requests are ignored. Students are not supposed to leave the high school at lunch because it is a closed campus.
Vignarajah compared the high school to a mall where students freely leave and return.
Monique Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, said members bombarded the Popeyes corporate phone line to complain about the store serving students but nothing changed.
“I feel like I’ve failed my community after fighting so hard,” Washington said at the family’s news conference. “We’ve had meeting after meeting with [Edmondson-Westside] ... and I expressedly told them in May if you don’t get some kind of consequences set up for these kids, something’s gonna happen to somebody’s baby.”
“Here we are,” she added.
A spokesperson for Popeyes said in a statement that the company works closely with local officials and “respects their wishes to not serve students during the school day.”
In the coming weeks, Dorsey’s family will specify changes they want to see at the school and the shopping center, which has become an example of “so much that has gone wrong across Baltimore,” Vignarajah said.
But members of the Edmondson Village community say residents are welcoming to shoppers and helpful to neighbors.
Burrells described the shopping center as a communal space where people meet up and hang out. Men who gather in front of stores often help older adults carry their groceries or walk inside. Security guards are greeted like friends.
If teenagers had a recreation center to go to or more school sports to play, perhaps they wouldn’t gather at the shopping center, Burrells said.
“If they occupy their minds, they wouldn’t have time to beef,” he said.
Speaking a few yards from where Dorsey was killed, his family said they are heartbroken he left for school and never returned.
“The mass shooting in West Baltimore yesterday has shattered our lives in ways that only an unlucky few will ever understand,” the family said in a statement. “We ask that you pray for our family and for the families of the other four children shot in the middle of the school day.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Ngan Ho, Lee O. Sanderlin and Dan Belson contributed to this article.