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Killing latest tragedy in area Rosemont residents say shooting of boy, 14, a symptom of decay; 'Gotten used to it'; Seven people shot, three dead since 1996 in same community


Residents of West Baltimore's Rosemont community, where a 14-year-old boy was shot several times Saturday evening, say such horrors have become commonplace.

"We have tragedy surrounding us here," said Clarence Smith, who owns a flower shop a block from where the fatal shooting occurred. "People have just gotten used to it."

Police said Markel Ward, an eighth-grader at Calverton Middle School, was leaving a fried-chicken restaurant at Edmondson Avenue and Poplar Grove Street about 5 p.m. when he was shot four times in the chest and twice in the legs. The shooting occurred two blocks from his home in the 900 block of N. Franklintown Road.

Homicide Detective Bobby Patton said police know of no motive or suspects.

Bernadine Butler, 46, said she was working in a bar across the street from the restaurant when she heard the shots and ran to the scene.

"Markel was lying there, sprawled out on the steps of the store with his legs spread out and his chicken dinner in his hands," she said. "He was still breathing when I saw him there. It really hurt to see him like that. I thought, 'Oh my God, that's my neighbor's child.' "

Friends of Markel's, including Butler's 15-year-old nephew who went bicycling with him, said he was planning to go to a roller skating rink on Pennsylvania Avenue later Saturday evening. Police said he went to the corner store to get dinner before going out.

Butler, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, said Markel was a "good little playful boy" who enjoyed riding his bike and playing basketball. "He didn't cause any trouble," she said. "Just a quiet kid."

Police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said Markel was involved in a dispute, but "the exact nature of it has not been determined." Markel's family declined to talk about his death.

'Such a violent way'

"That's a hell of a way to lose your life, in such a violent way," Patton said. "He's so young to have such anger erupt around him. To have someone want him to die like that, what could he have done to merit that? If we knew who did it, we'd be all over them like a cheap suit."

The sounds of gunfire have become almost routine to the residents of an area troubled by drugs, abandoned houses and boarded-up storefronts. Since 1996, seven shootings -- mostly of young men -- have occurred in the 600 and 700 blocks of Poplar Grove St. Three of the seven victims, including Markel, died.

Residents can easily recite the names of recent gunfire victims, including Damon Jefferson, 22, who was killed in August 1997.

Spray-painted R.I.P. messages with the names "Doughboy," "Damon" and "Goodies" adorn the Edmondson Fried Chicken restaurant where Markel was shot. A bullet hole in a front window of the restaurant and bloodstains on the street illustrate the area's plight.

Many families afraid

Several families with children along the 900 block of N. Franklintown Road, where Markel lived, said they have become nervous about shopping at stores along Poplar Grove.

"It's frightening," said Denita Pearson, who has lived in the 900 block for a decade. "Too many young people have gotten killed on these streets. It's a death trap.

'Hostage situation'

"You have to keep your kids secluded from certain areas," she said, standing on her front porch. "It's not fair for the kids that they have to live in this hostage situation."

Leaders of neighborhood groups say they have tried to organize cleanup groups and programs where older adults serve as mentors to teen-agers, but their efforts are often short-lived because residents seem to be afraid to participate or are not interested.

"The drug activity in the area has been reported [to police], but nothing seems to get done," said Mary Rosemond, head of the Alliance of Rosemont Community Organizations, which represents the area of Monroe and Franklin streets and North Avenue. "It's very frustrating. "People who can move out leave the area and those who stay, they go in and close their doors," said Rosemond, who did not know Markel. "[Markel Ward's] death was an innocent killing. You're afraid to go out and you're afraid to come in."

Southwestern District police say increased patrols, including officers on foot and in unmarked cars, are making the area safer.

"There used to be a lot more shootings than there are now," said police Agent Joe Crowley, who called the area "an open-air drug market."

Deacon Philip Randall, of Rehoboth Church of God in Christ Jesus at 700 Poplar Grove, said drugs have devastated the neighborhood and made life harder for children in the area. The church has organized after-school activities for children and young adults, providing them a safe place to socialize.

"We endeavor to save everybody," Randall said. "We don't want to lose anybody."

Margaret Smith, who has lived on Markel's street for 34 years, said people used to have a different way of resolving disputes.

"When I was coming up, people fought with their fists. Now kids are getting guns and it's just terrible," she said. "I never knew [Markel] to bother anyone. It's a mess out here."

Not much has changed

Clarence Smith, the florist, said though the area has had more police patrols in the past five years, not much has changed.

"I don't see any difference, I really don't," he said. "I don't know ZTC what the answer is -- maybe church, maybe people participating more. I can't put my finger on it."

Pub Date: 12/07/98

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