The boy is so small his mother was afraid to send him out to play football.
But on Baltimore's streets, he was tough enough to rack up arrests for fighting and drug distribution that rival rap sheets of the city's more seasoned offenders. His record includes at least seven criminal cases in the past two years, according to sources familiar with it.
This week he completed his rapid rise through the criminal justice system - charged with murder at age 13. If convicted as an adult, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Police have accused him of being among a group of kids who threw an empty wine bottle at a man early Saturday in the Oswego Mall public housing complex in Northwest Baltimore.
The victim protested and at least a half-hour later, police say, the youngster covered his face with a bandanna, took a gun from a friend and fatally shot the man several times.
They say the youth then shot in the back a second man who tried to drag the first victim to safety. The boy is charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.
A grim portrait emerged yesterday of a troubled young teen-ager who chose the streets over school, broke his midnight curfew and never came to terms with the death of his father.
It's rare for children so young to be charged with murder, and especially with killing older men, according to criminal justice experts. When children kill adults, it's typically because they were goaded into the violence by older boys, said Dewey G. Cornell, a University of Virginia psychologist.
The boy's mother agreed.
"I don't think he did it," she said during an interview. "But if he did, he was pressured into it."
The boy's mother spoke yesterday as she smoked a cigarette outside the 11-story senior housing tower where her mother and two of her three children live. She stood in the rain as she discussed how her son idolized his 18-year-old brother and hung out with friends whose names she doesn't know.
Prosecutors are deciding whether her son should be charged as an adult with Saturday's fatal shooting. The Sun is not identifying the boy or his mother because he has been charged as a juvenile.
He was born in Baltimore, the middle of his mother's three sons, all with different fathers.
The young suspect's father died when he was about 4, his mother said. In his honor, the boy sports an "RIP Michael" tattoo on his scrawny right biceps.
Without a male influence, the boy started acting out, his mother said, regularly getting into fights. "Somebody says something to him and he thinks he's a big man," she said.
The boy spent most of his life in Park Heights. He lives with the 18-year-old brother and grandmother at the senior housing tower in the 2500 block of Violet Ave. His mother lives nearby with her 6-year-old son.
Though the boy is supposed to attend a Pimlico Middle School, officials said yesterday that he often doesn't show.
"He didn't cause a lot of havoc around here," said Assistant Principal Raymond English. "He just didn't come to school."
His mother said he was regularly suspended.
He enjoys football and video games. With his mother by his side, he mostly obeys, she said. But on the streets, she said, she suspects he dealt drugs.
She feels some responsibility for his recent arrest, she said, but, "I raised my kids the best I could. Once they go out on the streets, I can't be out there 24/7."
His mother, a 37-year-old cashier, said she has been charged with drug offenses.
She said she allowed her son to go out because "nobody keeps their kids confined to their house." He was supposed to be home at midnight on weekends, she said.
Sources familiar with the boy's criminal history told The Sun he has faced at least seven criminal cases since his first arrest in late 2003, when he was 12.
He has been on probation since a juvenile conviction earlier this year for assault. His mother said he got into a fight with a boy while he had a pocket knife in his hand. She said he didn't intend to cut the boy.
Since being placed on probation, he has twice been arrested, his mother said. He regularly visits his juvenile probation officer, she said.
The mother showed in court Monday wearing a black "Stop Snitchin'" hat. She said yesterday that it was her son's hat and she just grabbed it because she hadn't done her hair. She hasn't talked to him about his arrest.
The boy is the eighth suspect under 18 to be arrested this year by Baltimore police on murder charges. He's also the youngest. Seven juveniles have been killed this year in Baltimore.
Nationwide, homicides committed by juveniles have been declining for about 10 years, said Cornell, of the University of Virginia. Most are kids killing other kids, he said, and it only seems as if the number of murders is rising because the events garner increased media attention.
In Baltimore, there are at least a couple of high-profile juvenile killings each year. In 1994, a 10-year-old was charged with murder for shooting his best friend with a shotgun. He lived three blocks from this week's suspect.
In 2003, 88 juveniles under age 15 were charged across the country with murder or non-negligent manslaughter, according to FBI statistics. In 1996, there were 257 such arrests.
Prosecutors typically decide whether to pursue adult charges against a suspect within six to eight weeks of the suspect's arrest, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.
If the shooting had occurred after the boy's 14th birthday, on July 28, he would have automatically been charged as an adult.
Prosecutors can seek adult status for children charged at any age with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, rape, attempted rape or a first-degree sex offenses.
Burns said they base their decisions on the age of the suspect, his mental and physical condition, his amenability to treatment, the nature of the offense and his participation, and the interests of public safety.
If they decide to pursue adult charges, they will have to file a motion with a juvenile judge.
The boy's mother intends to visit him today at the juvenile justice center downtown.
"Maybe he'll say exactly what happened," she said, "because right now I don't know."