Marcus McDowell was just 16 years old, a teenager who already had a high school diploma, a girlfriend with a "promise ring" and plans to start community college this year.
He was on his way home Monday evening when he left a store in the 5100 block of Harford Road and found three people trying to rob his friend, city police said. Marcus intervened. He was shot twice, dying less than an hour later.
"It was just Marcus being Marcus," said his mother, Darlene Belvin, 33. "If you're his friend, he would put his life out there to help you."
Marcus McDowell is an anomaly in a city where violent criminals kill each other just about every day.
He is a victim with no criminal record, a teenager heading home to dinner on a night that swallowed him up in the latest spate of homicides, at least 15 in the first 10 days of the year.
At a news conference Tuesday on the killing of Detective Troy Lamont Chesley Sr., Col. Fred H. Bealefeld III, chief of detectives, pointed to Marcus McDowell's death, calling it a true tragedy.
"This kid did nothing but come to the aid of his buddy," Bealefeld said yesterday. "Why do so many of those kinds of conflicts have to result in a kid losing his life, and not a fistfight? ... What did they want to take? Marcus McDowell, you know what he had? Three dollars. All they could've taken was his clothing and three stupid dollars, that's all anyone could've gained from Marcus McDowell."
Matt Jablow, a city police spokesman, said it's "extremely unusual" for murder victims in Baltimore to not have a lengthy criminal record. He said that although the homicide tally is higher than normal, there doesn't seem to be a common thread to the deaths.
But even for a violent city, this is an alarmingly deadly start.
Baltimore set its all-time records in the mid-1990s, with more than 300 people killed each year. Martin O'Malley, set to become governor next week, made the goal of his mayoral term a murder total of 175 a year, one he never came close to reaching. Last year, city violence claimed 275 lives.
Incoming Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said she would meet today with Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm to discuss the recent spate of homicides, but she said she wouldn't have specific recommendations on how her administration intends to address violent crime until next week.
"It's got to change," Dixon said during a City Hall news conference yesterday. "What's been happening, it's got to stop. We could have a police on every corner in this city, [but] people have to begin to value human beings' lives and police can't police that.
"So it's bigger than just what the Police Department is going to do. The citizens of Baltimore have got to be outraged."
Darlene Belvin and her family are outraged. The Alabama resident escaped Baltimore several years ago so her children would be safer.
Though Marcus grew up mostly in Reisterstown and Essex, he spent a lot of his time in Baltimore, where many of his relatives live. He graduated from Glenmont Elementary and Middle school and was a ninth-grade student at North County High School in Anne Arundel County before moving to Alabama.
"It was just getting so bad here, and I had a job offer there," Belvin said. "I wanted the kids to be in a better place."
But Marcus missed Baltimore, she said yesterday, surrounded by family members and friends sitting in the original house of her grandmother. He frequently visited to see his girlfriend and relatives and to work construction jobs during the summer.
A picture taped to a mirror showed Marcus in a Baltimore baseball hat. He always wore Baltimore-themed T-shirts, said Belvin, like "410 Hustler," and another in memory of "the towers," the notorious public housing project that was demolished.
He took night classes to get his high school diploma a year early and return to his hometown.
Marcus came back in the spring, moving into his great-grandmother's house, where his uncle and several other relatives live. He hoped to take classes at Baltimore City Community College this year and then apply to the University of Maryland, College Park.
"He was a very good student," said Belvin. "He talked about doing engineering but he really wasn't sure. He wanted to do something that would challenge his mind."
Friends and relatives described Marcus yesterday as saucy and smart, a teenager who was both juvenile and wise beyond his years. He could watch cartoons all day, but then talk about his own death in the next breath, even outlining his desires for his funeral.
He nicknamed his grandmother "Ninja Nanny," slathered even his ham and cheese sandwiches with ketchup, and always walked around with a full glass of Kool-Aid. He named his beloved pit bull "Karma" because "karma always turns around and bites you in the ... ," said his mother, quoting him.
Marcus could watch a movie once and quote just about every line from it, his family said. He reveled in affection and hugs but was also one to get into mischief and fights.
He was athletic, playing basketball, baseball and track, but he excelled at football. Family members recalled a playoff football game when Marcus had broken fingers and a pulled collarbone, and cut off his cast and taped his shoulder just so he could play.
Marcus was exceptionally close to his four siblings.
Yesterday his brother, Anthony Clark Sr., 18, was quiet when talking about his brother.
He discovered his brother's body on the street moments after he left his house, calling their mother from his cell phone and screaming, "Mom, he's shot, he's shot," as he held Marcus. Clark accompanied him in the ambulance. "I just told him to pull through," he said.
Police have not made any arrests in the killing.
The family lamented that the violence in the city could claim such an innocent life.
"It's out of hand," said Damon Davis, 34, Anthony Clark Sr.'s father. "There's no value for life. ... When do you stop the children killing other children? People get caught in the crossfire.
"You lose your life for helping a friend. Marcus is not the type to walk away from a friend. There was nothing that scared him. He didn't have any fear in his heart."
For a mother, the reality will settle only when she sees her son today in his coffin.
Belvin will follow her son's wishes. He will be cremated, not buried in the ground, where he always said everyone would forget him. He will be dressed in his black Dickies pants; a red, black and white Enyce shirt; and a red fitted Baltimore cap.
Relatives and friends will dress casually, as Marcus wished, and have a big party afterward to celebrate the young man who was always the life of the party.
"He just loved it here," Belvin said. "I'm not sure why. He came back here because he wanted to be here so bad.
"And it turns out, it killed him."
Sun reporters Gus G. Sentementes and John Fritze contributed to this article.