A toy car and truck, Christmas presents for a 3-year-old West Baltimore boy, lay unused on the living room floor at his neat and modestly decorated row home in the first block of S. Carey St. yesterday.
Cheryl Whittington, the boy's mother, sat on a sofa and fought off tears, trying to muster the courage to walk a block east to South Carrollton Avenue where dozens of plush animals, flowers and balloons rested in silent vigil to the memory of her son, James Smith III.
"Please tell everyone how much I have appreciated everything," she said. "I know I'll never be able to thank everyone personally."
Whittington had taken her son to a neighborhood barbershop on South Carrollton Avenue near Hollins Market on Thursday afternoon after giving him a gold bracelet on his third birthday.
Moments later, James was fatally shot and Whittington was wounded in the right arm trying to shield her son from a gunfight that erupted in Fresh Cuttz, a half-block from Baltimore Street on the fringe of the Union Square neighborhood.
Homicide detectives have arrested two men and charged one with first-degree murder.
Witnesses told police that a man walked into the shop and opened fire on a man who was sitting on a bench next to Whittington and her son.
"The police, I don't know all their names, were just wonderful to me, and I am glad they caught the men," Whittington, 23, said yesterday as she gingerly repositioned wide gauze bandages covering a bullet's entry and exit points on her arm.
"We planned to have his birthday party on Saturday," she said. "He would have begun school [today]."
Recounting the events of Thursday, Whittington, a switchboard operator at Liberty Medical Center on Liberty Heights Avenue, said she had taken her son to Malcolm X Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore to complete his registration in the Head Start preschool program.
"He was so excited about going to school," she said. "He loved to sit at his desk and tell me he was doing his homework."
After visiting the school, Whittington took her son to visit his paternal grandmother.
"He said, 'Grandmom, I want to eat some breakfast,' and she fixed him some.
"He was so happy. He just sat there and talked and talked to us for a while."
Before they left for the barbershop, she recalled that he looked at his grandmother and said, "I love you, Grandmom."
The community outpouring since her son's death -- rage at the senseless killing and sympathy for the family -- has helped ease her pain, Whittington said.
The boy's father, James Smith Jr., 26, is employed by United Parcel Service. He was unavailable for comment yesterday, Whittington said.
Since James' death, city dignitaries have visited Whittington at home, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, a 6th District Democrat.
"The support has been overwhelming," said Jeannette Beverage, James' maternal grandmother.
State Del. Ruth M. Kirk, a Democrat from the 44th District, and the Rev. Willie Ray, founder of the Stop the Killing Coalition, which holds remembrances for victims of violent crime and rallies Baltimoreans to take a stand against crime, also visited to pay their respects, Beverage said.
Others, such as the Rev. Edward G. Robinson, have preferred to pray outside the barbershop.
Robinson, the president and pastor of Agape House, an unlicensed foster care facility two blocks north of the barbershop, arrived after yesterday's morning service at the home with about 30 people.
"We pray to God this senseless killing won't be repeated," he said as the men, women and children surrounded him in prayer.
"Police say it's not drug-related, but I have known one of those [suspects] all his life," said Robinson. "He has been an accident waiting to happen. His whole life has been drug-related, and he comes from a good home, with a strong mother and father."
Arbutus Memorial Park Inc. offered the family a free plot, vault and burial for James, valued at more than $2,000, according to William Callais, the owner and president.
"I don't know everything that people have offered," Whittington said. "My mother has answered most of the calls. It just shows that James is everybody's baby, not just my baby."
Kevin Holloman, who said he didn't live in the neighborhood, didn't know James Smith or the family, stopped by the barbershop yesterday.
"I have three children and I . . . know how I would feel, if this had happened to one of my kids," said Holloman, after he had unloaded a full-sized sedan crammed with bags of stuffed toys, balloons and an oversized card.
"I wanted the family to know they are not alone," he said.
Among other items already part of the makeshift shrine was a large placard affixed to the shop's window. It read in large handwritten letters: "The Sound of a Gun / Light a candle in memory of James Smith III." It bore about 100 messages, including one from Stukes that said: "Remember 'God Is.' This must stop."
A smaller card said: "God be with you," and was signed, "Daniele."
Some of the items were covered in plastic to protect them from a morning drizzle.
Police said Maurice Blevins, 19, of the 1100 block of W. Lexington St. was arrested Friday on charges of first-degree murder and a handgun violation in connection with the shooting.
Kenya Davis, 20, of the 3500 block of Frederick Ave. was arrested soon after the shooting on Schroeder Street. He was found with gunshot wounds in an arm and a leg. After he was treated at the University of Maryland Medical Center and released, Davis was charged with attempted first-degree murder and a handgun violation.
A wake and funeral for Jamesare scheduled for Thursday, beginning at 11: 30 a.m. at Dalton Baptist Church, 4302 Garrison Blvd.
A fund to defray funeral costs has been established in the boy's name at the NationsBank branch in the Rotunda on West 40th Street, Stukes said.
Pub Date: 1/06/97