Annie Dozier kissed her slain son's cheek early yesterday morning and whispered into his left ear. She wanted him to deliver a message to his two brothers killed before him.
"Just tell Mousey and Kim that I love them," she said.
Then the 40-year-old Northwest Baltimore mother returned home to another sleepless night grappling with the despair that pervades many Baltimore communities. Since Jan. 1, 2002, 913 people have been killed in Baltimore. Three of them were Dozier's only sons.
Their mother says they had "hearts of gold" but acknowledges that, in many ways, her boys wanted to be like the criminals who loiter outside her home. Throughout most of their childhood, she was incarcerated. Shortly after her release from prison in 2001, her boys started dying.
"This case magnifies what's going on to a smaller extent in a bunch of communities in Baltimore," said Deputy Police Commissioner Marcus Brown. "It emphasizes the real need to break the cycle."
During the city's crime mapping strategy meetings, commanders regularly hear the same family names they heard when the meetings commenced a decade ago, Brown said. Often, the families remain in the same neighborhoods, such as the gritty community near Pimlico Race Course where all three of Dozier's sons were killed.
"It's a vicious cycle of people getting involved with crime, drugs, gangs and brothers following in their siblings' footsteps," said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a University of Baltimore criminologist, speaking about life on inner city streets. "It's extremely tough for a young man to break that pattern, particularly when everything is there to reinforce that behavior."
Once in the cycle, young men are likely to become either suspects or victims, Ross said. Last year, about 88 percent of Baltimore homicide suspects had criminal records, police said. About 88 percent of homicide victims also had criminal records.
The specifics of each homicide that claimed Dozier's sons were typical of most in the city. But the impact on this single family was extreme.
Kim Nichols was 19 when he was gunned down May 5, 2002. His alleged killer died before going to trial.
Michael "Mousey" Dowdy was 18 when he was shot and killed on his bicycle June 22, 2003. His alleged killer, who was once charged with trying to kill Kim, went on trial yesterday.
Kevin "KK" Dozier was 19 when he was shot and killed yesterday in front of his mother's Pimlico home. Police are investigating.
All of her boys gone, Annie Dozier climbed out of bed yesterday morning with an unexpected sense of relief. No more waiting on the porch to see if her sons make it home. No more resignation that another son will be killed. No more locking her youngest son inside a basement bedroom.
"KK doesn't have to be around here anymore," she said. "He doesn't have to worry about this mess."
During the 1980s, beginning with Kim's birth May 1, 1983, Dozier had four children by four men. The family lived in the Murphy Homes public housing complex until Dozier went to prison in 1990 for killing her boyfriend, according to public safety officials. During a nearly two-hour interview yesterday at her home, Dozier declined to discuss her criminal history, but she described how her incarceration tore apart her family.
Kim went to live with Dozier's mother, she said. Michael and Kevin bounced between foster homes. Daughter Keonna Dozier, the youngest of the four, went to live with a relative.
While in prison, Annie Dozier crocheted a photo collage frame for her younger sons. "Michael, Kevin and Me," it read, with two red hearts on a black background.
The boys wrote her letters. Michael and Kevin visited, as they did almost everything together. But the children - and Kevin, particularly - blamed their mother for putting them into foster care, she said.
Upon her release, Dozier took custody of Michael and Kevin, she said, but she never regained all of their respect. "I really didn't have control over them," she said, "because I lost that while I was gone."
Kim remained with Dozier's mother. Keonna lives with a relative.
Mother knew her three boys best.
Kim and Kevin were playful and cocky. Michael was serious. All of them dropped out of high school.
Kevin liked to buy entire outfits of stylish clothing, from sneakers to jeans to shirt to hat to sunglasses. He greeted friends on the street by saying, "Hey, son." He was respectful to callers on the phone, but alcohol turned him into a different person, his mother said.
Each of the boys had run-ins with the law, their mother said.
Kim pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge, according to court records.
Michael was once charged with armed robbery, though prosecutors did not pursue the case, court records state.
Kevin was released from jail in mid-May. He had served time for drug possession with intent to distribute and charges related to an escape incident during which he attacked and ran from officials checking to ensure he was on home detention.
In a plea arrangement, the judge sentenced him to five years - but gave him time served, which amounted to about six months.
Kevin also had a previous conviction on drug possession, court records state.
Annie Dozier believes all three of her sons were killed by the same group of men that frequent her neighborhood. Each son's funeral brought about a growing sense of inevitability about the next one.
Kim's killing tore through his mother. She never thought she could lose a son. She talked her other sons out of seeking revenge.
In many ways, Michael's death was easier for Annie Dozier to accept.
"Once it starts happening so rapidly and so constantly, I don't know if you ever feel you can accept death, but a part of you is accepting that this could happen," Annie Dozier said. "Being in the environment you're in, the odds are stacked against you."
After the funeral, Kevin lost his desire to live, his mother said. He dropped out of school even though he was in his senior year. "It was live or die," his mother said. "He didn't care. He would always say he was going where his brothers were."
With two of her sons dead and her daughter being raised by a relative, Annie Dozier gave birth May 22 to a girl, Keyierra Harris. She vows that she will raise this child, as she did not raise her first four children.
"I'll just have to let her know about her brothers," Annie Dozier said. "I'll always have the pictures."
Perched on her mantel are photos of Kevin and Michael in matching, striped, button-down shirts and blue pants. She also has one Kevin and Michael sent her in prison of the pair in matching blue sweaters.
Annie Dozier told Kevin not to go outside Sunday night, she said. She waited on the porch for him until 11:45 p.m. When he came home, she locked him into his basement room and went to bed. But he sneaked out.
Her fiance stormed into their bedroom about 1:30 a.m. yesterday. Kevin had been shot, he yelled.
Annie Dozier ran outside to Queensberry Avenue. Her son was still alive when she got to him. He had been shot several times and was lying on the street, gargling blood.
Said Dozier, "I was like, 'Oh my God, please. They've taken all my boys from me.'"
Sun staff writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.