It was a "Rest In Peace" block party, thrown to remember a fallen gang member, but it ended in gunfire, with 11 people lying wounded along the pavement on East North Avenue and Baltimore police struggling to figure out what happened.
At least two assailants fired their guns into a packed party at 2032 E. North Ave. at about 10 o'clock last night, just an hour after police had visited the scene in an attempt to disperse the crowd, which had grown to about 100, police and witnesses said.
By 10:30, police had roped off three blocks near Chester Street in the largest shooting any of them could remember in years. Ten ambulances were called to transport five males, the youngest a 14-year old boy, and six females, said Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris. Police did not release the identities of the 11 victims last night.
Five victims were transported to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, all of whom were listed in serious condition as of midnight last night, according to a spokeswoman. The rest were transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital. A Johns Hopkins spokeswoman said three of the victims were in critical condition.. In all, police said, more than 40 shots were fired. "They fired right into the crowd," said Norris. Police believe the shooters were dropped off down the block from the party, at Chester Street and North Avenue. After spraying bullets from about 60 feet away into a white tent used by the revelers, the shooters may have escaped in the same car, police said.
The party had been organized to remember 22-year-old Keith "Bone" Hamlet, who had been fatally shot last November at his home in the 2000 block of E. North Ave. Police later charged Tavon Dixon, 20, in that shooting.
The party was organized by Hamlet's family and friends. Sharon Evans, Hamlet's mother, obtained a permit for the party, which was supposed to last from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m, according to police.
Organizers erected the tent, decorating it with balloons. By 8:30 p.m., police visited the scene to disperse the crowd, many of whom continued to linger.
The party was held in front of a two-story rowhouse where police said other shootings have occurred recently.
"I came around earlier, and they were having a good time," said John Wise, 50, who lives around the corner on Chester Street. "I came back and there were people lying on the sidewalk."
Police say they do not know whether the shooting is gang-related and they have no leads on suspects.
But the neighborhood, around Chester Street between North and Lafayette avenues, said residents, has been a battleground, as rival gang members battle for control of the popular drug-peddling turf. "People know who did this, but they are not going to say who did it," said one woman who lives in the area, who like many residents interviewed was reluctant to give her name.
"This is hard, this is genocide," said Robert Silver, 37, as he surveyed the scene. "The crime rate needs to go down; [Mayor Martin] O'Malley is doing OK, but apparently he's not doing good enough."