Grandmother's love, family anguish

The Baltimore Sun

The more strongly Jasmin Borum rebelled, the more family members urged her grandmother, Pauline Borum, to throw her out.

In the street, Jasmin was a 16-year-old high school dropout with a rowdy reputation. But at home, she was a skilled sketch artist with a penchant for fashion design and a loving grandchild who accompanied her Nana to Sunday church services.

On Sept. 4, grandmother and granddaughter were shot to death in their house on a quiet tree-lined street in Northeast Baltimore. There was no evidence of a robbery, and police have not identified any suspects.

But distraught family members and authorities believe clues to the killings lie in the world Jasmin concealed from her doting grandmother - a mix of gangs, violence and rivals capable of taking not only Jasmin's life but also that of the woman who nurtured her when others had all but given up.

"Every day is like Sept. 4 for me," said Timothy Borum Jr., Pauline Borum's son and Jasmin's uncle, an Air Force sergeant who lives in Laurel. "My mother was an innocent victim of a senseless act - she didn't have any enemies."

But Jasmin did.

A month before the killings, Jasmin was assaulted and taken to Bon Secours Hospital. A photo taken shortly after the attack shows her smooth coffee-colored skin bruised purple, her deep brown eyes swollen shut. Jasmin refused to discuss the beating with her family or cooperate with police to find her attacker. An exasperated Timothy Borum Jr. told his mother: Leave her there. Walk away. After all, it wasn't the first time Jasmin had been in trouble.

"She wasn't telling me anything, she wasn't telling my mom anything and those factors led me to believe whatever she is involved in, she's deeply involved in," said Timothy Borum Jr. "Her loyalty was to whatever it was she was out there doing. In my mind, Jasmin wasn't going to do right until she was ready."

But Pauline Borum, 60, would hear nothing of abandoning her eldest grandchild.

Jasmin moved in with her grandmother shortly after dropping out of the 10th grade at Reisterstown's Franklin High School last March. Jasmin's mother, Vonda Borum, had recently given birth to twins and Jasmin was constantly at odds with her mother and stepfather. (Vonda Borum declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Three months after her last day of high school, Jasmin was arrested for her role in a brawl in Reisterstown that left the victim unconscious. She was tried as an adult and found guilty of second-degree assault and sentenced to three years of probation.

Timothy Borum's wife, Shanine Borum, a social worker with the public defender's office in Towson, predicted where Jasmin was headed and tried to steer her to a positive path. At one point, Jasmin expressed an interest in moving to Germany to live with her father, who is in the military, and his wife. But he wanted nothing to do with his daughter, said Timothy Borum.

"My niece's father was nonexistent," Timothy Borum said. "There were several attempts on my behalf to get Jasmin to stay with him, but she was getting the roundabout from her father. It was met with so much opposition from his wife. Jasmin wanted her father's attention and it wasn't there."

Family chalked up Jasmin's occasional defiance to a cry for her father's love and hanging with the wrong crowd. They were relieved to see glimmers of progress - in the past year, she got a job working at a Reisterstown deli and took occasional classes toward a GED. In a homework assignment, she named her grandmother and uncle as her heroes, Timothy Borum said.

Other family members tried to give Jasmin structure. A month before the murders, Pauline Borum's husband, Timothy Sr., who lives in rural Locust Hill, Va., pushed to have Jasmin move in with him. The retired urban planner, who said he remained good friends with his wife despite living apart for seven years, offered Jasmin a life away from the city's temptations. But Jasmin resisted, even for a visit.

"She used to say, 'Sure Pop Pop, I'd love to come and visit you,'" he said. But she had changed.

"Suddenly it was 'I don't want to go to Virginia, it ain't going to do nothing for me, who do y'all think you are?'" said Timothy Borum Sr. "I didn't see the little girl anymore; she was a different person.

"I don't have all the answers," he added, "but I knew if she got out of that environment, away from all those issues she was facing, things would be better."

Jasmin continued to misbehave, disappearing for days at a time, sending Pauline Borum into a panic. Other times, the grandmother would become so frustrated with the teen, she would put Jasmin out. But it was temporary.

Jasmin knew she always had a room in her grandmother's house.

"She would tell her, 'If you don't get yourself together, you may not be so lucky the next time,'" said Lola Stewart, a member of Dunamis Ministries, a small Pentecostal church to which Pauline Borum belonged. "She wanted her out of this town. She feared for her."

The friends often confided in each other about the anxiety of raising adolescent girls in the "what's wrong with teenagers today?" refrain by which the older generation often views the young.

"We would compare notes and say we weren't like that back then," said Stewart, mother to an 18-year-old. "But Pauline did everything she could to try to help her. Her love for Jasmin was phenomenal. No matter what she did."

While she became frustrated, Pauline was no disciplinarian, as a grandmother or as a mom, said Timothy Borum Jr. Pauline Borum raised Timothy and Vonda largely on her own, having divorced from their father, when they were young, only to remarry him after their children were grown. She worked long hours at an embroidering factory and always held side jobs, from helping to run an art gallery to peddling life insurance, candles and car wax. Precious time with her children was for fun.

The same was true of raising Jasmin. The grandmother of six was a security officer for the Environmental Protection Agency at Fort Meade and recently took a part-time security job at Anne's House of Nuts in Jessup.

When she wasn't working, Pauline Borum was out on the town - at the latest festival, art gallery, family cookout or church gathering, often with Jasmin in tow. Family members describe the pair as "best friends."

Still, Jasmin had plenty of unsupervised time and with it, she carved a life that has stunned her family.

During their investigation, police discovered a trace of that world: letters scrawled in an indecipherable alphabet with bold red ink. A book resembling a diary that Jasmin had written in, was saturated with the same codes and symbols.

"The detectives seemed very surprised by the intricacy of these letters and the codes these letters hold, they think this is linked to a gang," said Timothy Borum Jr. "We were shocked."

Baltimore police say the killings could be gang-related, and they are trying to glean as much as they can from the last two precarious years of Jasmin's life.

They have few leads and hope that someone comes forward with clues.

"Based on what we had in the investigation so far, the grandmother doesn't have anything to do with it," said police Detective Juan Diaz. "She was a hard worker, she was a religious person. She was loved by everyone. It's a very sad story."

During the pair's funeral in Westminster, where Pauline Borum was raised, family put together a photo slideshow of "Jaz and Sissy" as they were affectionately known. Baby Jaz snuggling in a pink jumper. Sissy dancing at a family barbecue. Jaz and the bunch of grinning grandkids surrounding Nana at her 60th birthday party just two months before.

Loved ones remembered Pauline Borum not only as a devoted mother and grandmother with deep religious convictions but also as the ultimate social butterfly, planning parties, leading the church hospitality board and playing matchmaker for girlfriends.

"She was always, 'Let's go eat, let's go to the festival, let's go do this,'" Stewart said. "She was murdered on my birthday and we were supposed to go out that weekend. I found out later she had gotten me some scented candles and left them for me in a container in her house. I still cry on and off about this."

They remembered Jasmin as a girl who didn't live long enough to see her own potential.

Timothy Borum Jr., bristles when he thinks of the spiral his niece's life took, and the typically composed military man snaps with anger when he discusses the many young lives claimed by city murders.

"You really don't have an understanding about the violence until it affects somebody close to you," he said. "Somebody took it upon themselves to do this senseless act to my family. To my family. It's just not fair."

Recently, he attended a homicide victims' rally at War Memorial Plaza to add his voice to a chorus of outraged residents.

After the heartwrenching speeches, he left feeling powerless, cynical.

"Everything was going to end then and there," he said. "There was going to be no follow-up, no solutions."

And worst of all, no closure.

An article published in the Dec. 26 editions of The Sun on the deaths of Jasmin Borum and Pauline Borum incorrectly characterized the relationship between Jasmin and her parents. Jasmin's father, Alfred Maurice Robinson, and his wife, Sue Robinson, say they were active in Jasmin's life and tried twice to obtain custody of her.The article also misstated Jasmin's age and the couple's affiliation with the military. Alfred Robinson is not in the military. His wife, Sue Robinson, is a U.S. Army colonel. Jasmin was 17.The Sun regrets the errors.
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