Vigil held for Edgewood man Instead of celebrating Walter Antonio Overton's 21st birthday, his family and friends gathered Friday night in Edgewood at the spot where he was shot and killed to remember his life.
"Happy birthday. We love you. We miss you," said his mother, Sandra Pierce, 47, looking at a collection of candles and flowers. "All of us are here because this is your day."
For about half an hour, they cried in the foggy night, screaming for God to give them guidance. One woman wore a football jersey with Overton's name inscribed on the back. Most held candles.
Overton, who grew up in Edgewood and had been staying in Middle River with his older brother, was hanging out with friends at a townhouse in the 400 block of Meadowood Court when he left to run errands, said one of his brothers, 30-year-old Andre Overton. He returned a short time later and was shot a few steps from the front door.
He became Harford's first homicide victim of 2007 less than 24 hours into the new year and on the heels of what could be the county's deadliest year since 1989. Seven deaths were ruled homicides last year, and three more await rulings from the state medical examiner's office. Three of last year's killings were in Edgewood, including the shooting in July of Kevin Harold Rowlette, a classmate and friend of Overton's. Their deaths were strikingly similar. Rowlette, also a 20-year-old known as a stellar athlete, was shot at close range in front of a townhouse.
A 22-year-old man suspected in that killing was arrested in Georgia two weeks ago on drug charges and was to be extradited to Maryland. No arrests have been made in Overton's death.
Rowlette's death prompted outrage in the community. Soon after that, R. Thomas Golding, then sheriff, announced that he would be sending seven additional deputies to the area.
There have been few headline-grabbing crimes there since then, and Sheriff L. Jesse Bane announced at a holiday tree lighting last month that he would keep the deputies in place. Bane attended Friday night's vigil.
"We ask you to send your healing angels, Lord God," the Rev. Lawrence Worthington said. "We pray for the community of Edgewood. Where do we go from here?"
Samuel T. Gibson, a member of the community council, said the shooting troubled his neighbors. However, he said recent months have been a cause for considerable optimism.
"We've had eight or 12 weeks of quiet time, but you're not going to stop [violence] on a dime," Gibson said. "We've got a new sheriff that cares, and he's working with us. He's kept his word on everything he told us he'd do."
From January through September of last year, Harford police agencies reported a 2.9 percent increase in violent crimes, which include homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.
Howard County, which is similar in size to Harford, reported a 2.6 percent increase but nearly one-third fewer violent crimes.
Police have blamed gangs for much of Harford's increasing violence, and authorities from across the region have been discussing how to tackle the problem.
Overton's family and friends said their pain was compounded by some media reports that Overton had been involved with the Bloods, a gang linked to the shooting death of Derald Howard Guess in December 2004.
Andre Overton said police were interpreting one of his brother's tattoos - which read "M.O.B." - to mean "Member of Bloods." But the tattoo was an homage to a song by the late rapper Tupac Shakur, Andre Overton said.
"Walter wasn't a troublemaker," he said. "He wasn't affiliated [with gangs] or nothing like that."
According to court records, Walter Overton was charged with drug possession last year, but the charges were dropped. The rest of his record consisted of traffic tickets.
He attended Edgewood High School but did not graduate. He had been working for a temporary agency and was interested in computers, Andre Overton said. Walter Overton was expecting his first child in July.
"They're not bad boys," Rodney Pierce, 40, Overton's stepfather, said of Rowlette and Overton. "They're living in a hard area, and they know people, but they're not bad boys."