Just hours before 6-year-old Tiffany Smith died in a cross-fire between two gunmen Tuesday night, her neighborhood held a party.
The neighbors blocked off the 1800 block of Rosedale Street, danced and had a good time. A music group sang anti-drug songs. At 8:30 p.m., the party ended. Then night came, and with it the violence that took a young girl's life.
Tiffany was three weeks shy of her seventh birthday. She lived in the 3000 block of West North Avenue, around the corner from where she was shot and on the same street where her neighbors had celebrated. She attended Edgewood Elementary School, had finished first grade and would have entered the second grade in September. She enjoyed swimming and playing with dolls, the simple pleasures of a child.
"She was a beautiful girl. She was sweet. She's just like my baby," said Walter Winfield, a friend of the family. "Everybody around here loved her. She was a wonderful girl."
She was the eighth child under the age of 10 to die by homicide in Baltimore this year.
One man has been arrested. Guy Bernard Wilson, 20, who gave his address as the 300 block of Jennings Road in Severna Park, has been charged with first-degree murder and a handgun violation. (A later check showed that the address does not exist.)
Accompanied by his lawyer, he surrendered at police headquarters and is being held at the Southwestern District pending a bail review.
Police spokesman Dennis S. Hill said last night that Mr. Wilson was being charged with murder based on the accounts of witnesses who said the suspect fired the bullet that killed the girl from a 9mm handgun.
Yesterday, in the neighborhood where Tiffany lived, people gathered in conversations that shifted between sorrow over her death and rage over the continuing violence and drug dealing.
Since September, four people have been slain in the 12-square-block area
around Tiffany's house, and nine others have been injured in shootings.
The violence continues even as the community tries to stand up against it in what has been designated a "Drug Free Zone."
Robert Johnson, who lives near the site of the shooting, said he feels beleaguered. "This is not a bad area. You've got homeowners around here," he said. "Most of the people around here are homeowners, and they're tired of this."
About 10:40 p.m. Tuesday, Tiffany and her friend Quinetta Winfield, 8, went to Tiffany's house to pick up their pocketbooks and clothes. Tiffany had spent Monday night at Quinetta's house, in the 1800 block of Rosedale Street, and was preparing to spend another night there.
The two youngsters were so close, said Mr. Winfield, Quinetta's father, that he had thought about taking Tiffany along on a family trip to North Carolina.
As the girls returned to the Winfields' house with the clothes and began to play outside, Mr. Winfield sat on the steps of his house. He said he saw Tiffany step out of the vestibule of the house next door.
Then a shot rang out. Two men, standing about 125 feet apart, were shooting at each other.
Police said Mr. Wilson, who was known to visit the area regularly, got into an argument with another man over Mr. Wilson's reasons for being in the neighborhood. After exchanging words, the men walked in opposite directions, reached opposite ends of the block, turned and fired.
"It happened so quick. I grabbed her. They were still shooting as the baby fell," Mr. Winfield said. "One of the bullets hit her and spun her around so quick, like you're spinning a dime."
A 9mm bullet had struck Tiffany in the head.
"It was a terrible sight to see," Mr. Winfield said.
TC Around the corner, Tiffany's aunt, Ruth Miller, heard the first gunshot. She thought it might have been a firecracker. Then she heard a volley of seven shots, another volley of eight shots and yet another three shots. A neighbor came running around the corner.
"She was crying, and all she said was, 'Your niece.' Then she fainted," Ms. Miller said. "That's when I went around there and saw my niece bleeding, blood everywhere. Her eyes were closed, but she was still breathing."
A fire truck arrived, then an ambulance. The young girl died less than an hour later at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Yesterday, there were reminders of what had happened. In front of the house where Tiffany was shot, there were still faint splotches and outlines on the sidewalk where her blood had spilled.
At Rosedale Street and Westwood Avenue, where one gunman stood, yellow circles marked the sites where spent casings were found.
And apparent everywhere was the neighborhood's solemn mood.
At Tiffany's house, in a block where eight of the first 13 houses are boarded up, Ms. Miller fielded questions while the child's parents, Charlene Miller and Troy Smith, stayed inside. At times, she held her head in her hands or puffed absently on a cigarette, a tired, pained, distant look in her eyes.
Around the corner, Mr. Winfield said his daughters and wife were huddled together, unable to sleep since the shooting. "My baby is up there right now, just shaking like I don't know what," he said.
Shirley Johnson, principal of Edgewood Elementary School, and Brenda Cofield, a parent liaison worker at the school, visited Tiffany's family. Ms. Johnson said they had come "to show that the school is behind them. She was just a sweet little girl."
But along with the sadness, neighbors fumed about what they perceive to be neglect by the city. They said trash goes uncollected, streets are not swept and that there are not enough police officers walking beats. But when the welfare checks come, they said, there are plenty of addicts and plenty of dealers to supply their needs.
The residents said they want swift and brutal retribution for those who bring the drugs and violence.
"Every time you kill a kid or anybody, they should have a law that you get killed. That'll stop it," Mr. Winfield said. Prisoners aren't going to do anything "but lay up in there and sleep and eat and live off the next working man," he said.
But James Gray, who runs a car wash off Rosedale Street, was not concerned with retribution yesterday. His concern was with the memory of Tiffany Smith, to whom he dedicated yesterday's business. He said he wanted to buy some flowers or a wreath with his earnings.
"I feel very bad about it," he said. "It just hurts, you know, that a young kid had to die in violence."