Ollie Hines lies in a nursing home, blind in one eye. He has lost the use of his left hand and left foot to partial paralysis. Doctors say he has lost 10 years of memory, and he does not recognize one of his grandsons.
Yet, since he was severely beaten during a Feb. 15 robbery in the West Baltimore rowhouse where he lived for 50 years, Mr. Hines has clung to life. At age 95, it has not been easy.
As Mr. Hines struggles, the attack's impact on his life and the lives of his son, a daughter who lives in South Carolina and several grown grandchildren provides a chilling glimpse of the aftereffects of what sometimes is brushed off as "minor crime."
Until the attack, family members say, Mr. Hines' life had been one of stability and self-sufficiency -- an old man living in the same place five decades, loving to cook beans and bake corn bread and walking to a nearby market for his household goods.
Neighbors talk about his sense of community spirit, his vigilance as a community crime watchdog, and his routine of sweeping the sidewalks.
The old man's son, Howard Hines, says family members' lives are punctuated by nightmares and anguish as they ponder the senselessness of the attack that changed their patriarch forever.
"I wanted my father to grow old and die naturally. We prayed that he would live to be 100. I've been robbed of that," said the younger Mr. Hines, a psychologist who for seven years counseled criminals.
"They beat my father with their fists," he said. "He was in the kitchen trying to prepare his food, but they beat him in the face so badly that they fractured his cheekbone."
Ann Marie Harris, a granddaughter who is 29, said through tears that family members feel "pain and anger, because my grandfather never hurt anybody."
"He is immobile. He is unable to do anything. My grandfather is dying. What hurts me most is not being able to do something and to see him not having the will to fight back," said Ms. Harris, who is a payroll clerk at University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Howard Hines, a Spring Grove Hospital psychologist who used to help criminals toward rehabilitation at the Patuxent Institution, admits that revenge and vigilantism permeate his thoughts -- even though he knows that is not a course to pursue.
All he asks is that the criminal justice system follows through, adding: "I don't want to hear about the rights of junkies and drug dealers. They may have gotten enough money from my father for one stinking high. Does a man have to die so another man can get high? This is mind-blowing to me. Incomprehensible."
Heartbroken at father's condition
Mr. Hines said he has been heartbroken to see his father stricken by seizures, kidney failure and circulation problems that could result in a foot amputation, as well as a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to hold a conversation.
The nursing home is in Howard County. The son visits along with his four children, other family members and Ruth Haliday, who at 82 has been a good friend for more than 50 years.
Mrs. Haliday says simply of Ollie Hines: "There's nothing I can do but pray for him. He was a dear friend. He was a good fellow. He tried to help everybody, and he went to church every Sunday."
The medical bills for Mr. Hines have totaled more than $30,000 and continue to mount.
"Much of the medical expenses are paid," his son said, through private insurance and Medicaid.
But he adds that the cost to his father has been "his life, health and quality of life and his trauma."
No suspects have been charged, police said, a fact that intensifies the younger Mr. Hines' bitterness.
The 47-year-old Howard County resident said he does not live in Baltimore largely because of the city's crime problem. He is angry that his father's attackers preyed on an elderly, vulnerable man.
"These people are a different breed -- they don't give a damn about the community. They are junkies, killers and drug addicts," Mr. Hines said.
"They are like a lion in the jungle; when they are hungry they are going to beat you. We need to look out for each other. They will pick us off one by one. It could be me this year and you the next."
Police said Ollie Hines was cooking his dinner shortly before 6 p.m. when he was attacked by two men. Detectives do not know whether the two men forced their way inside or were let in by Mr. Hines after they knocked at the front door.
Police spokeswoman Sabrina Tapp-Harper said detectives still are looking for the two assailants in the area of Mr. Hines' house in the 1300 block of N. Fremont Ave., in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.
At the moment, the crime is on police records as an assault and robbery, but if Mr. Hines dies, it will be reclassified as a homicide. Meanwhile, the family's frustration centers on the questions of why, and how to cope.
The psychologist in Howard Hines makes him wonder if criminals can be rehabilitated or whether they should just be punished.
Howard Hines, the son trying to come to grips with his father's plight, says: "I feel like a coward because I cannot do something. I feel demoralized. I'd like to have more faith in the system, but it seems like we are living in an extremely godless world where people can do whatever they choose."
'Worst type of invasion'
Donald Todd, director of the community services division of the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said the emotional trauma experienced by the Hines family is common. He oversees a bereavement center that counsels the families of city homicide victims.
"When no one has been arrested, the victims cannot target their frustration and anger over what has happened," Mr. Todd said. "It's probably the worst type of invasion that a person could feel. It leaves a void where you cannot target it, and it's important for the victims not to blame themselves."
On North Fremont Avenue, Mr. Hines' neighbors miss his presence on the block. His three-story rowhouse with its shiny, silver front steps sits vacant, and neighborhood children say they miss "Mr. Ollie," their friend and community mentor.
He was a retired 36-year employee of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. who resisted leaving the city neighborhood he had called home so long, despite an increase in burglaries, his son said.
Ollie Hines' motto -- "Keep looking up" -- is well known on North Fremont Avenue.
"He was a good neighbor," said Letha Curtis, a neighbor who has known him a long time. "We had a friendship, and I found him to be a very nice man. He has been missed, yes. We miss him."