Murder tests city's capacity for hope Among the grim signs of the times: a blind man in a bulletproof vest


Ivan Lane fell hard on the pavement late Monday night on

Biddle Street in East Baltimore, his veins racing with cocaine and heroin, his life running away from him through a bullet hole in his chest. If he knew what was happening to him, he knew it for only a moment. Death came quickly.

In a gray mist of rain Friday morning, his family buried him -- along with 21 years of promise, hobbled hopes and sleepless nights. The young man whom neighbors once lovingly called "Little Ivanhoe" left their circle in a bronze casket.

In the week that America's fourth-deadliest city verged on its 300th murder, Ivan Donnell Lane was No. 297.

Like most of those who fell before him, he was young and black and unemployed. He had a criminal record for drug possession and auto theft. He had been to jail once. He died from a bullet fired by a handgun.

And, if the prevailing pattern holds true, his killer will turn out to be someone just like him in every way -- if he ever is caught.

"From the beginning, when Cain killed his brother, Abel, we saw the pattern over and over again in the Old Testament," the Very Rev. John L. Filippelli intoned over Ivan Lane's body Friday morning inside the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church -- where the dead man once wore the black and white vestments of an altar boy. "Brothers killing brothers and mothers weeping over their lost sons.

"Today, we are seeing the same tragedy over and over again on the streets of Baltimore. And we see it, and we fear that our city has gone to hell."

The signs were everywhere last week.

In a voice left ragged by two hours of sleep in two days, veteran homicide detective Sgt. Steve Lehmann predicts on Wednesday night that the city is destined to break last year's record of 335 murders by "at least 15 or 20 -- at least that." The man in charge of finding Ivan Lane's killers says he has "no witnesses, no suspects."

Pat Papa, a pediatrics nurse at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, peers into a computer printout Friday afternoon and starts counting to confirm that a record-breaking 25 children have been treated at the hospital for gunshot wounds this year.

One of them, 10-year-old Tauris Johnson, died Thursday night after a stray hollow-point bullet from a drive-by shooting passed through his head two blocks from the church on North Caroline Street where Ivan Lane would be eulogized in the morning.

"We save most of them," says a weary Dr. Charles N. Paidas, a member of the Hopkins pediatric trauma team that tried for three hours to keep Tauris from dying.

"But we don't let ourselves talk about it too much because we know that sometime in the next two weeks it's going to happen again -- and again and again.

"We've never seen anything like this before in Baltimore, especially the number of drive-by shootings. It's an epidemic."

Circuit Judge John C. Themelis leans forward in his chair Thursday and locks his jaw, stifling the tears welling in his eyes. He has just heard the news that Ivan Lane is dead.

Angelic faces of killers

The judge does not remember Lane's name or his lean, bearded face and stocky body -- just eight weeks after he sentenced him to 18 months of probation for stealing a car.

"There's so many of these kids who come before me now charged with inexplicable atrocities that I can't remember the names on the routine cases after four or five days anymore," the judge says.

"I'm ashamed to say it, ashamed.

"But I'm sentencing teen-agers who have killed people in cold blood. These angelic faces. You look down at them from the bench, and you simply can't believe they are charged with such crimes. An auto theft is going to be hard to remember after that."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- whose positions on crime and law enforcement have garnered national attention -- gets ambushed by television cameras at the hospital bed of 10-year-old Tia Lipscomb after she is shot in the back Wednesday in a drive-by shooting in West Baltimore.

"Mr. Mayor, do something," Tia entreats. "I want whoever did this to be punished, but I also want them to get counseling."

Criticizing the mayor

Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III recalls the little girl's words as he takes the mayor to task Friday morning for not responding to his calls at the beginning of the year for a tough anti-crime program.

"The mayor visited that family whose child got shot, and it is obvious that he cares -- and cares deeply -- but it says something about the times we're in right now that the mayor feels compelled to start doing things like that.

"The City Council has been trying to wake up the mayor's administration to just how deeply this issue of crime runs in the mind of the public. It's nice to see them taking some action. But we're at the point now that people are saying the city is going to the dogs. Black people, white people, the affluent neighborhoods, the poorer sections of our city. It's the one thing everybody agrees on."

Clint Coleman, Mayor Schmoke's spokesman, calls Mr. Bell's charges "ridiculous" late Friday night.

He points to recent moves by the mayor to put 330 more police officers on the street, to equip police helicopters with heat-seeking sensors to help track criminals at night and to push through new city laws that could force advertisers to tear down cigarette and alcohol billboards in most parts of the city.

Criticizing the mayor's critics

"People like Councilman Bell keep saying, 'Where's the mayor been?' when he's been here all along working on the problems we all face," Mr. Coleman says.

"As for the family of that little girl, the mayor has been visiting people like her for years to express his concern and sympathy. But he has preferred to do it quietly. Now, he gets cornered at a hospital by TV cameras, and an opportunist like Mr. Bell accuses him of playing to the media.

"It's hardly worth having the mayor comment on."

Mr. Coleman says that it's Mr. Bell who is trying to capitalize on crime, pointing to a community meeting called by the councilman the night before in the beleaguered Pen Lucy neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore.

The meeting, organized by Mr. Bell ostensibly to discuss the mayor's search for a new police commissioner, turned into an open forum for frustrated civic leaders on the subject of crime -- complete with glaring banks of spotlights and a school of circling television cameramen.

"The people that are suffering the most, you don't see here tonight because you have all of these TV cameras here, and they don't want the hoodlums who are running their neighborhoods to see them on the 11 o'clock news," says James Mears, a cabdriver and civic leader in West Baltimore's Winchester section.

"For some other people, it's not about being afraid. It's just economics. You got whole neighborhoods now that are depending on drug money to pay the bills," he says. "And people just accept that a certain amount of killing goes along with it. They're never going to speak out about it because they're trapped in it."

Diane Jackson, who introduces herself as the wife of a federal prosecutor, warns Mr. Bell that unless something is done to stop the killing, "the public will be voting with their feet by marching out of the city to live somewhere else."

Robert Nowlin, a blind community activist from Pen Lucy who has worn a bulletproof vest since his house was sprayed with machine gun fire this year, complains that the Police Department transfers beat officers out of neighborhoods "just as they are starting to earn the trust of the residents and figure out what's going on."

Finally, Emmanuel Holmes can't stand it anymore. Pushing his bulky body to the front of the room, the 10-year Army veteran seizes the microphone.

"Let's talk about black-on-black crime!" he demands. "Let's talk about how scared people are.

"Well, the truth is these kids aren't threatening you and me. They're not killing us. They're killing each other. They're just scaring us. And we should be scared -- because if they really want to start killing us, they can."

Mr. Holmes doesn't need the benefit of a recent Police Department study to tell him that more than 150 young black men and boys have died by gunfire this year, or that some 120 black men and boys pulled the triggers, or that almost half of all the murders in the city are listed as drug-related.

Rage at the senselessness

Neither does Father Filippelli.

"I cannot believe that God is in their hearts when they kill each other for the most senseless of reasons," Father Filippelli told the 200 friends of Ivan Lane's family gathered Friday morning for his funeral. "For power! For money! For drugs! They kill their brothers!"

His outrage mounted, booming off the vaulted ceiling of the Saint Francis Xavier sanctuary to be joined by the spiring cries of Rosetta Lane. The priest and Ivan's mother were locked in a duet of grief.

It was a familiar hymn.

"He was an East Baltimore boy," explained Lucretia Coates, Ivan's aunt. "He was born and raised here. And he died here. There's nothing else to say."

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