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Community organizers held a vigil for Charmaine Wilson, the mother of eight who was killed earlier this week. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

Friends and family gathered in the Franklin Square neighborhood Friday evening to remember Charmaine Wilson, the mother of eight who was shot to death this week in what police described as a "brazen" killing that took place after she reported her son had been bullied.

As they lit candles arranged in the shape of her name and sang hymns, those close to the 37-year-old health aide described her as outspoken and committed to her family.

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"She's a family person, as you can see," said Tyiesha Aytch, 36, as she waved at the large crowd that came to the corner of Bruce and West Lexington streets to honor her cousin. "She was my right hand ... and they took her."

Wilson's family gathered as city officials and police continue to grapple with escalating violence across Baltimore. There have been 159 homicides in Baltimore in 2017, putting the city on a pace to exceed 300 killings for the third year in a row.

Several community organizers speaking at the vigil Friday under a streetlight covered in balloons expressed anger that city officials hadn't done more to confront systemic problems in West Baltimore.

"It's really a spiritual battle," said Daphne Alston, who founded a group called Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters after her son was killed in 2008 and who helped organize the vigil.

"That gun gets loaded up with everything that's wrong," she said. "They put them bullets in there, but drugs, decrepit housing, poverty — all that goes into their anger."

Wilson was shot Monday after she called police to report that someone had stolen her son's bicycle seat. A family member, who declined to be identified out of fear of retribution, said Wilson told police she felt unsafe discussing the incident and asked an officer to call for backup to monitor her home in the 1700 block of Gertrude St.

Baltimore Police identified several recent homicide victims on Wednesday, after a spate of shootings left six dead in less than 24 hours.

Seven minutes after the officer left, family members saw two people approaching from an alley with bandannas covering their faces, the relative told The Baltimore Sun. Wilson was the last person trying to attempt to take cover inside the house.

A police spokesman declined to address the relative's version of events Friday night.

Police have said that the officer who took Wilson's report Monday was nearby when the shooting occurred. The officer was investigating the alleged assault of her son, checking cameras at a convenience store around the corner. A police spokesman has said the officer was doing his job properly and that the "appropriate focus" was finding the person responsible for the killing.

Several Baltimore police officers turned out for the vigil Friday, held on a narrow street at an intersection that neighbors said is known as the "man cave" — and at least one speaker thanked the officers for being there.

Earlier this week, officers were knocking on doors near where the killing occurred and looking for tips that could lead them to the people responsible for Wilson's death.

Wilson's killing also prompted a small group of protesters to gather outside Baltimore police headquarters Friday morning in effort to bring attention to the spate of violence.

Tyiesha Aytch adjusts balloons at a candlelight vigil for Charmaine Wilson, a mother of 8 who was killed this week. The vigil was held in her neighborhood, near the intersection of Bruce and Lexington streets in West Baltimore.
Tyiesha Aytch adjusts balloons at a candlelight vigil for Charmaine Wilson, a mother of 8 who was killed this week. The vigil was held in her neighborhood, near the intersection of Bruce and Lexington streets in West Baltimore. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

The rally was organized by Christina Flowers, an advocate for the homeless, and was attended by several local pastors. They carried white poster board signs that read, "We Stand For Ending Homicides" and "No Justice No Peace."

"We need city leadership," Flowers said.

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"This is people's lives," she said. "People's lives are at stake."

The group marched from police headquarters to City Hall to raise awareness about the "frustration" and "fear" felt by many residents, she said.

The Rev. Andre H. Humphrey leads a trauma response team, a group that offers grief counseling to Baltimore families in the immediate aftermath of violence. Humphrey attended the protest and said he is concerned about the "vicious cycle" of trauma that overcomes families in the aftermath of violence.

"We need a change," he said.

After Wilson's death, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Mayor Catherine E. Pugh spoke at City Hall, asking the community to speak up about the killing and other crimes.

"We want to protect anybody who wants to come forward," Pugh said earlier this week.

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