Leon Nelson wore his hair in long braids. He had been all over the region, riding alongside his father, who drives a bus for a living. He once played high school football and wore a white tuxedo to his junior prom.
He was one of three people shot in a Chinese carryout on New Year's Day, and after spending three hours at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, he died of his wounds - becoming the city's first homicide victim of the year.
At 17, he was also the first juvenile to be killed.
"He was a kid with ambitions and a lot of dreams," said Steven Montgomery, a close friend of the family. "He was a good kid, for real."
City police recorded 275 homicides in 2006, and numbers that included a spike in both juvenile victims and suspects. Twenty-eight of the victims were under 18, and 21 people under the age of 18 were charged as adults with murder. Many were African-American.
Those figures are an example of a mounting crisis among black boys, Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said during a meeting last night of a newly formed group composed of educators, faith leaders and members of black professional organizations.
The group, which numbers about 50, was formed to develop a plan to reduce violence and provide mentors to the city's youth. They said they hope to recruit 1,000 men to work with students in city schools.
"If you are sitting at this table, you're here because you're tired of talking and you want to do something, because our black men are dying," Cheatham told members at the local NAACP office on West 26th Street. "We have to be serious, or we are going to get that label that we have had for years: We talk a lot, but we don't do anything."
Police also were investigating two apparently unrelated deaths yesterday in West Baltimore - one, an unidentified man whose body was found by a passer-by about 3 p.m. yesterday in a wooded area off the 2900 block of Challedon Road near a West Baltimore apartment complex. Police said the man appeared to be in his early 20s, and investigators were awaiting the results of an autopsy by the state medical examiner's office.
Police were withholding the identify of a woman whose body was found about 6:30 p.m. in a rowhouse in the 2000 block of W. North Ave. Her death was being investigated as "suspicious," pending an autopsy, police said.
The year's first killing occurred about 6:30 p.m. Monday. Nelson's father drove him and his best friend to get food at China Garden, about a mile from Nelson's Winchester Street home. The carryout, in a shopping complex on Clifton Avenue, was one of the few establishments open on the holiday.
Nelson and his friend were in the waiting area when a man with a gun walked in and opened fire, police said. There are a table and a few chairs in the waiting area, leaving nowhere to hide. The counter and kitchen area are protected by bullet-resistant glass.
In addition to Nelson, police said, the gunman also shot and wounded his best friend, also 17, who was hit in the right hip. A 22-year-old woman who works at the restaurant was slightly wounded in the left thigh and was released after treatment at Sinai Hospital, according to Brittney Wang, a fellow employee and daughter of the owner.
Agent Donny Moses, a city police spokesman, said homicide detectives believe the two young males were targeted and that the restaurant employee was hit accidentally.
The carryout was not robbed during the shooting, and neither were any of the shooting victims, Moses said. Police would not elaborate.
Like most of the city's homicide victims and suspects last year, Nelson had a criminal record, police said. Citing juvenile confidentiality rules, Moses would not elaborate on Nelson's offenses.
Friends who gathered on Nelson's porch in the 2900 block of Winchester yesterday disputed the police account of his past. "He was not into any drama," said Montgomery. "It's not like he was a street kid." His parents, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary Saturday, were too upset to talk to a reporter.
Looking at the portrait taken at Nelson's junior prom, Montgomery, who has known the family for years, said: "He wasn't a tough kid; you can just see the innocence in him."
In the photo, Nelson looks directly into the camera with a serious expression. He looks tall in the picture, although family friends said he was not. In another photo, he stood with one of his sisters. Nelson was the middle child, with sisters ages 20 and 13.
Montgomery said that as a boy, Nelson was inquisitive and questioned everything. "The older he got, the more he got into just observing."
Tavon Webb, another family friend who watched Nelson grow up, described the family as tight and recalled Nelson's father agonizing over whether to allow his son to play football. "He was worried about him," Webb said.
More recently, Nelson worked out at a neighborhood boxing gym, Webb said. The last time Webb saw him was Sunday, when Nelson he was typing away on the family's computer doing work for his General Educational Development certificate.
"He wasn't lost; he had a strong upbringing," Webb said. "He was simply going to pick up food that they had ordered."
Sun reporter Richard Irwin contributed to this article.