Baltimore family is torn apart by a single bullet


Just half a block from Hattie Matties' front steps is a place she never wants to visit again.

It is a spot of horror for the 58-year-old West Baltimore woman; the source of her nightmares and the reason for her constant tears. It is the corner of Woodbrook Avenue and Traction Street where her 19-year-old grandson, Gregory Matties, was fatally shot in a $3 robbery May 17.

On the night Mr. Matties died, Ms. Matties was preparing for bed. She heard a gunshot and ran from her brick rowhouse to find the teen lying face down bleeding. He had been shot in the head.

"It's hard for me to live down that that shot rang out and took my grandbaby's life," she said yesterday, crying over the memory. "I said,'Gregory, please try to hold on! Hold on! Lord, have mercy.' I don't know if I have [anything] to live for anymore.

"I saw him lying there dying -- I will never forget it. I just wish I didn't go, but that was my baby there, and I didn't know if he was living or dead."

Mr. Matties and his three friends were lying on their stomachs on the sidewalk. The gunman was collecting their cash, their sneakers and watches. Apparently, Mr. Matties raised his head, and the thief fired a single bullet into his head.

Police have no suspects.

But the tragedy has torn apart the Matties family, who settled in the Penn-North neighborhood almost 20 years ago after Ms. Matties, a North Carolina native who worked at a clothing factory, bought a three-story family home in the tree-lined 2400 block of Woodbrook Ave.

The small family is trying to figure out why. They said they find comfort in prayer, but their shock is often overwhelming. Instead of attending Mr. Matties' graduation from Douglass High School this spring, they buried him in a vault in Rockingham, N.C.

Ms. Matties blames crime and heavy drug activity in the neighborhood, located just off North and Pennsylvania avenues.

"I worked very hard to find a home, and I paid for it myself," Ms. Matties said. "And then animals like this come in and mess it up and mess up the family. These [criminals] are animals -- they are snakes, lizards and alligators -- that is what I compare them to. It's a complete animal world out there, a jungle. When you leave your front door, you are running."

Mr. Matties' mother, Dorothy, cannot speak about the death of her only child. Ms. Matties has become the family's spokeswoman. Now, she is taking medication for stress and must see the doctor regularly. Relatives and friends constantly tend to both, concerned about their well- being.

"I didn't know how hard it hurt until it got to me," Ms. Matties said. "It has just made a 90-degree turn in the family. Everybody is just hurt. We're trying to hold each other up."

Ms. Matties' emotions range from sorrow to anger. She said she believes her grandson was killed by a junkie in search of cash for a quick drug fix.

"They need to get the drugs off of the street. If they would legalize these drugs, it would stop it and all of us could live happy. If they don't stop it, we're all going to be running for cover," she said.

In a senior citizen apartment building near the family's home, Lester Bey, a local shopkeeper, also mourns for Mr. Matties. The two became friends after Mr. Matties became a regular at the small store, stopping by each day before school for a snack.

Since the slaying, Mr. Bey said the other teen-agers in the community have been deeply affected.

"This murder stunts the growth of the kids around here," Mr. Bey said. "It makes them afraid. They are more on guard and tense. And for their parents, it devastates them. It does not allow them to let their kids do things on a normal basis."

Mr. Bey is planning to hold a candlelight vigil in Mr. Matties' memory in the neighborhood at 6 p.m. June 25. He said he hopes the service will allow the community and the grief-stricken Matties family to begin to heal.

Ms. Matties said she would welcome the gesture.

"I think about what I learned [at] church as a child: When a fruit is ripe, you pluck it off because it's ready," she said. "This is what has carried me through this. He was ready to go."

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