Neighbors in East Barclay-Midway -- where 61-year-old Nathaniel Hurt is charged with fatally shooting a teen-ager who vandalized his car -- are seeking donations to bail the man out of jail.
Community residents and family members are collecting money toward the $200,000 bail because they feel that Mr. Hurt, a community devotee who worked as a neighborhood block captain, should not be in jail. He is charged with first-degree murder in Monday's shooting of 13-year-old Vernon Holmes.
"It could have happened to any citizen," said Mr. Hurt's son, Anthony Hurt. "This is what happens when kids have no respect for adults."
But Carl Stokes, a 2nd District city councilman who represents the area, said soliciting donations for bail while not trying to raise money for the victim could send the wrong message.
"Obviously, people think highly of Mr. Hurt and want to help him," he said. "The mixed message is that we don't care enough about the life of a young child."
The strong support expressed for Mr. Hurt in recent days has troubled some city officials. Police cautioned against vigilantism, and yesterday the mayor appealed to parents to watch their children closely.
"First and foremost is that parents really have to exercise the initial control over the activities of their children," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "A strong hand here could have prevented this activity."
At a news conference yesterday in front of Mr. Hurt's house at the corner of East North and Homewood avenues, his son claimed that his father fired upon a group of 20 to 30 youths in self-defense. The 38-year-old son said reports from police falsely portray his family as villains.
The son said that one of the youths shouted "You're a dead man," and fired two shots. Only then, he said, did his father retrieve his own handgun and fire from the second-floor back fire escape.
Police disputed that account. Monday's incident began when youths shattered Mr. Hurt's car windshield with a rock, they said. An hour later, more youths gathered and threw bottles at the car.
Police said only one shot was fired -- the one from a handgun held by Mr. Hurt that struck the Holmes youth in the back.
Det. Darryl Massey of the homicide unit said Mr. Hurt's family is "making up little stories that are just not true. This man did what he should not have done."
Phillip A. Brown Jr., who is helping the Hurt family solicit donations, stressed that he is not trivializing the Holmes youth, who lived with foster parents in the 700 block of E. 20th. St., around the corner from Mr. Hurt.
"We feel sorry for the victim, too," said Mr. Brown, the president of Baltimore's PTA, noting that he'd like to help raise money for the funeral of the slain youth. "We know a 13-year-old has lost his life, but right now we're asking people to help out and get Mr. Hurt out of jail."
Mr. Hurt was ordered held on $200,000 bail by a District Court judge on Wednesday. His family will have to come up with $20,000 to pay a bail-bondsman before Mr. Hurt can leave the City Detention Center.
The body of the Holmes youth was released to Morton & Sons Funeral Home on Wednesday. A wake and funeral services are scheduled for Saturday at Pleasant Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dundalk.
The Rev. James B. Gray Jr., pastor of the church, said he did not know the youth very well. Asked about the public plea for bail money, he said, "That's a tough one. I was always taught, 'Thou shalt not kill.' But I understand [the Holmes youth] had been picking on him for a long time."
Four days after the shooting, little is known about the young victim, a 7th-grade student at Lombard Middle School.
He has been described as troubled. Mr. Brown, the PTA president and City Council candidate, said the teen had moved from school to school before ending up at Lombard Middle.
Residents said he first popped up in the Midway neighborhood in August, and worked at Mr. Hurt's snow ball stand.
But, neighbors said, he gave up the job and started hanging out with kids described as petty hoods who enjoyed throwing rocks at cars.
But the youths also described Vernon as a boy who liked to make people laugh with his jokes, a boy who enjoyed running and playing basketball, a friend who bought doughnuts at a 7-Eleven for his classmates.
The slain youth's mother, Avis Cross, of Dundalk, declined to comment yesterday.
As a gesture to the victim's family, Mr. Brown knocked on the door of Vernon's foster parents yesterday to discuss creating a fund for funeral costs.
But neither he nor a woman inside would talk.
"If you don't get any response at the door, how can you offer any help?" Mr. Brown said later.