Classes were in full swing on a Thursday afternoon at Miracle Baptist Church School last month when a bullet ripped through a small room full of third-graders.
No one was hurt, but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and FBI are investigating -- and the church community is furious that three local teen-agers allegedly responsible have skirted more serious charges.
"I'm outraged, I'm insulted," said the Rev. Frank A. Murphy, pastor of Miracle Baptist in Northeast Baltimore. "It's minimizing the value of human life."
The incident occurred about 1 p.m. Oct. 28. About 15 of the school's 80 students were in the third-grade classroom. Seconds after two pupils left the chalkboard, a bullet crashed through the window, through a wall and hallway and into another room.
It missed the students at the chalkboard by seconds, and missed a seated student's head by inches, Murphy said yesterday. "If she had moved, God knows what would have happened."
Glass shards went everywhere, teachers screamed and children became hysterical. Through the window, several teachers saw three 17-year-old boys a few hundred feet away in the back yard of a neighboring house. They were carrying guns and walking toward the house, Murphy said.
Baltimore police questioned the boys, who admitted to the shooting, said police spokeswoman Angelique Cook-Hayes.
Two were arrested on misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, malicious destruction of property and discharging a gun in the city. The third was charged with reckless endangerment, she said. They were released later that day to the custody of their parents.
Police declined to release the names of the youths because they are being charged as juveniles.
Residents of the house from which the shot originated did not respond yesterday to a written request for an interview.
Officers confiscated two rifles -- which had been recently fired -- from the home where the boys were arrested and confirmed that the bullet found at Miracle Baptist matched the caliber of one of the guns, Cook said.
Murphy insists that the shooting should be treated as attempted murder.
"If those boys had been African-American and had fired into a white institution, they would be in jail right now," Murphy said. "There is an issue of race here in terms of justice."
Police said two boys are white and one is Latino. The church is predominantly black.
"The only time a person gets charged with attempted murder is when they purposely aim at someone," Cook-Hayes said. "The officer investigating said the weapon was not directly pointed at someone."
Cook-Hayes said the arresting officer conferred with the city state's attorney's office before deciding not to charge the teen-agers with attempted murder.
The NAACP is investigating, and calling for harsher punishment. In a statement, G. I. Johnson, president of the Baltimore branch, said, "Baltimore City police minimized this incident."
Johnson could not be reached yesterday to comment.
The FBI -- which was called about a week after the incident -- is investigating the shooting as a religious bias incident, according to Special Agent Pete Gulotta, spokesman for the agency. "Our investigation is based on the fact that it happened at a religious institution," he said.
"It is my understanding that the church [members are mostly black] but at this stage it's not looked at as racially motivated."
Gulotta said it was not clear when the investigation would be completed but added that civil rights cases are treated as high priorities.
Murphy said he and his staff at the "Bible-based, Afrocentric" school have experienced what appears to be random vandalism to church property several times, including shattered church and car windows.
In the wake of the shooting, several children have had nightmares and teachers and staff members have requested trauma therapy, Murphy said.
No one wants to use the room that has a punctured window and bullet hole in the wall.
Pub Date: 11/17/99