Memories of slaying victims bloom in new garden


It has been a year and a half since Maurice Robinson was gunned down in broad daylight on a West Baltimore street -- and still, his mother cannot bring herself to visit his grave.

"I'm just trying to think like he's just gone away," Marie Wattie said yesterday, wearing a T-shirt bearing the picture of her 35-year-old son. "If I go to the cemetery, I'll know he's never coming back."

Yesterday, Ms. Wattie got another place to go -- a small memorial garden at the Cylburn Arboretum created just for the families and friends of homicide victims.

"To go to a garden with flowers and stuff, he'll be alive in my heart," Ms. Wattie said, as she looked out over the shrubs, pots of geraniums, and pine trees as the garden was dedicated yesterday.

Individual victims have been memorialized before -- the deadly West Baltimore corner of Rosedale Street and Bloomingdale Road was named Tiffany Square, for a 6-year-old killed by a stray bullet in 1991. But victims' advocates say the new garden, designed by families, victims' advocates and staff of the Baltimore state's attorney's office, is the first memorial designed for the hundreds of people who have lost loved ones to the violence of one of America's deadliest cities.

"The Holocaust victims, they have somewhere to go. The Vietnam [veterans], they have somewhere to go," said Georgia Garrett, whose youngest son, Gerald Higgs, was slain in 1993, in what was Baltimore's most murderous year to date.

"Now we have somewhere we can go."

Jessie Snead remembers how her son, Terrance Thompson, died on Sept. 1, 1993 -- his daughter's first day at preschool.

At Sinai Hospital, she rubbed his face and arms and felt them grow cold under her fingers. After he had been buried, she moved his bedroom furniture into a room in her house, closing the door to preserve "the smell of him."

"I have never gotten over the shock of it. I never will," Ms. Snead said. "I feel that he was snatched from me, and I just cannot let him go."

Yesterday's dedication was one of a series of events observing National Victims' Rights Week, including the unveiling of a memorial quilt hung at the United Way of Central Maryland and a campaign this weekend to pass out reward posters for information about unsolved homicides.

Close to 100 people listened to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, among others, promise support for victims of crime and empathy with their heartache.

The garden cost about $7,000 to landscape and plant, most of it coming from donations from funeral and burial businesses and nurseries, said Donald Todd, who oversees victim services for the state's attorney's office.

Relatives of murder victims who belong to the Baltimore organization SAVE -- Survivors Against Violence Everywhere -- have volunteered to take care of the garden.

"If I have to carry every child I have out there [to care for it], I will," said Ms. Snead. "We've been waiting a long time for this."

Yards away from the celebration of the memorial and the politicians making speeches, 18-year-old Chel Hillard sat on a large rock, alone, with tears streaming down her face.

Her uncle Andrey Hillard, whom she describes as her "best friend," was killed March 23, 1993, on Edmondson Avenue near his home.

"This is not going to bring my uncle back," Ms. Hillard said, gesturing at the crowd. "I just want to know who did it and why."

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