On the deadliest day of 1993 -- a year approaching another record for murders in Baltimore -- five victims, three of them children, were added to the soaring homicide count yesterday.
A mother and three children were killed in an arson before dawn and a 21-year-old woman was found stabbed to death in an alley later in the morning. Police are also investigating a sixth death as a possible homicide, a newborn baby who was discovered dead in a trash chute yesterday afternoon.
"I can't remember a day this year when there's been more," said Agent Doug Price, a police spokesman. "It's the worst day for homicide that I can recall."
The latest surge of killings came on a day when local, state and federal law enforcement officials met in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's office to discuss violent crime in the city. The meeting, followed by a news conference, was designed to show that officials are "committed to a coordinated strategy" on dealing with violent crime, the mayor said.
But the violence continued.
Yesterday's deaths brought the city's homicide count to 273, compared to 257 at this time last year, when Baltimore set its highest mark for murders in a year. The city ended 1992 with 335 murders, breaking the old record of 330 set 20 years earlier.
"I swear, the world is coming to an end," said Sandy Lifsey, a 31-year-old mother of two who looked on as authorities removed the decomposing body of a baby girl from a trash chute at the Lafayette Courts public housing complex.
It is the same trash chute in which someone dumped a newborn baby boy on Sept. 20, 1992. That infant -- alive and inside a plastic garbage bag -- was rescued hours later after becoming stuck in the chute.
"I think the devil is here in Baltimore," said Ms. Lifsey, who has lived at Lafayette Courts for six years. "Even though we live in poverty, we don't have to live like this. It's no wonder we don't get treated with any respect."
The deceased baby, which appeared to have been no more than two or three days old, was discovered about 2:35 p.m. by a housing maintenance worker who was attempting to unclog a trash chute in the basement boiler room, Agent Price said. The high-rise is located at 200 Aisquith St.
"The worker went to dislodge the debris and as he pulled trash out, he saw the lifeless form of a child," Agent Price said.
It was not known how long the baby had been in the chute.
A police official said the death is being investigated as questionable. An autopsy will attempt to determine how the child died.
Each floor of the building has a trash depository that empties into a compactor in the boiler room. Investigators believe the child was thrown into the trash chute on an upper floor and became lodged with a clump of trash.
Police said they have no leads on the identity of the mother.
In the earlier case at Lafayette Courts, a baby boy with the umbilical cord still attached was rescued by police and firefighters after a tenant heard his cries. The child was placed in the custody of the Baltimore Department of Social Services.
Housing officials said that the building where the babies have been dumped has a family development center -- one of several in city public housing complexes -- on the ground floor. The center was put there so tenants would have a place to seek help for their problems.
Denise Sheppard, 26, a resident of Flag House Courts, another city high-rise project, said she and her three children came to Lafayette Courts yesterday to visit a friend and saw police crowded around the front door.
"We walked up and all these people started telling us that another baby had been thrown out in the trash," Ms. Sheppard said.
"It's a sad situation. The city has really been trying to turn these projects around. Life has gotten a lot better at Flag House, it's cleaner and has better security," she said. "Lafayette Courts hasn't gotten the help we've gotten yet. They need it. When something like this happens, it really touches us all deep down inside."
Police said last night they still had not filed any charges in connection with an intentionally set fire that raced through a West Baltimore rowhouse and killed four people.
The fire was reported at 4:14 a.m. at a two-story house in the 3400 block of Edmondson Ave. in the city's Allendale section. Killed were Sophie Hunter, 26, and her three sons, Brad Morgan, 2; Byron Morgan, 4; and Bryon Morgan, 5.
A fourth child, Lakia Jackson, 11, who fell from a second-floor window, was taken by ambulance to the burn unit at Francis Scott Key Medical Center for treatment of burns and bruises. She was listed in good condition last night.
Fire investigators said they believe that Ms. Hunter threw Lakia through a rear second-floor bedroom window in a desperate attempt to save her. The child fell about 30 feet.
But Ms. Hunter was overcome by the thick black smoke that had inundated the house and could not save herself or the other children.
She and two of her children were found dead in a rear bedroom and another child was found in a second-floor front bedroom, firefighters said.
Sherry L. Johnson, 41, who lives just two houses east of the burned-out rowhouse, said she was awakened by sirens and shouts of "Fire!"
"When I got outside, all I could see was the whole front of the building burning. When you see something like that, you just can't get them out," Ms. Johnson said.
She said neighborhood residents attempted to get into the house but were beaten back by intense heat and flames.
Children inside could be heard yelling, "Mommy, Mommy," Ms. Johnson said.
Penny Banks, 68, and Izell Simmons, 70, who reside next door, said they were awakened by people banging on the door. They said they quickly dressed and fled their house. Residents said Ms. Hunter lived in the house for just over two years. They said she worked at an office and dropped off her children at a day care center before going to work.
Ms. Hunter had recently been seeking to break up with her boyfriend, her friends said yesterday. He was taken into custody by police at the scene of the fire and was being questioned by homicide detectives last night.
Art Slusark, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. official, said that electrical service to the house had been discontinued in June for nonpayment of more than $700 in utility bills. The last payment was received a year ago, he said.
BG&E; employees went to the house at least a half-dozen times to cut off the gas service but were unable to gain entrance, Mr. Slusark said.
On Sept. 29, he said, utility employees discovered that someone had illegally restored electrical power to the house. Service to the utility pole was then cut off, he said.
In the fifth slaying yesterday, the body of a woman who had been stabbed numerous times was found just before 9 a.m. in a Southeast Baltimore alley, police said.
Toby N. Weaver, 21, of the 600 block of N. Luzerne Ave., was found in the rear of the 500 block of N. Collington Ave., police said.
Police said they have no suspects in the slaying.