Milton Hill shoveled the snow from the front walk of the church next to his small East Baltimore apartment. The 70-year-old helped carry heavy boxes to the food pantry and walked women to their cars after late-night events. He trimmed the church hedges on Thursday, just because it needed to be done.
On Friday morning, Hill was found slumped against a fence, lying in a pool of blood. He had been shot. The scooter he used to get around town — a retirement present he bought himself, according to the church deacon — was gone.
Friends, family and church members stood across the street, consoling one another and praying as city firefighters washed his blood down a storm drain. The red-stained water washed along the sidewalk he helped clear of debris, and down the alley he traversed to get to the ramshackle porch leading to his second-floor apartment in the 1200 block of E. North Ave. above the Ark Church bookstore.
"People are really gonna miss him," 82-year-old Reginald Trusty said. "I can't say it enough how much he'll be missed."
Hill was the city's eighth homicide victim this week, a tally that includes a Johns Hopkins researcher who was stabbed in a robbery Sunday that captured the city's attention, as well as two people killed in nearby Station North and a 19-year-old who was killed during a fight in Northeast Baltimore. And police say they have yet to reach the family members of victims in Southwest Baltimore and a man found dead in a vehicle in East Baltimore.
Public officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, reminded residents during a news conference Thursday in West Baltimore that city homicides are at a 20-year low, but officials acknowledged that much work remains.
Because Hill's scooter and the keys to it were taken, police believe the motive may have been robbery. But no one could understand why anyone would take his life, too.
Family members gathered at the scene said they were too distraught to talk, and church members said they didn't know much about his background other than that he may have worked at a church in Northeast Baltimore, which he biked to until he purchased the scooter.
Here's what they did know: Whenever they needed a hand, they could count on Milton.
"When we needed a good back, it was 'Get Milton,' " said Bishop Darnal Johnson, the Ark Church's executive pastor. " 'It's late and people are going to their cars; get Milton.' "
John Eden, chairman of the deacon ministry, said Hill's efforts didn't seem particularly motivated by spirituality, though he did attend services during the week. He recalled that Hill had a mammoth appetite but stayed thin. He didn't ask for compensation for helping around the church, just a bite to eat from the pantry on occasion.
Eden said he and Hill often spent time together, leaning against the church fence and chatting.
"I'm gonna miss my buddy," Eden said, watching the water wash over the pavement.