Crime Scenes: Community mourns murder victim

The e-mail popped up on Wednesday at 6:52 a.m., and its message was as concise as it was sad:

"My name is Dorothy Scriber, and I just lost my son to street violence."

The note invited me to a vigil for Louis Scott, gunned down on Aug. 30 a block from the rowhouse he shared with his mother near Druid Hill Park. Scriber wanted to put pressure on the police to solve the killing and to "raise awareness about the toll violence takes on people in Baltimore."

I checked to see if we had written about Louis Scott in The Baltimore Sun. We published four sentences on his death. I checked his criminal record in the on-line court database. He had a string of arrests, which included charges of drug dealing, drug possession and two separate counts of attempted murder in 2003 and 2006.

It would've been easy to shove this mother's request aside, to dismiss Scott's death as another life lost to the streets, where lives are rarely taken randomly, and thus rarely distinguished amid the din of gunfire that has killed more than 170 people in Baltimore this year.

Gunmen and their victims often fit similar criminal profiles, and on any given day either could be the one lying on the pavement with a bullet wound. Scott's death certainly appeared to fit this sketch. But something caught my eye on the court docket sheet: The only conviction in Scott's file was for simple drug possession.

Prosecutors didn't pursue two other drug cases against Scott, or charges that he was in a public park after dark. He went to trial both times on the attempted-murder charges; each time a jury came back not guilty.

Getting away with crime is not an unusual outcome of this city's criminal justice system. Either Scott had been wrongly accused of trying to kill three people in two shootings and of dealing drugs, or he was lucky to have escaped a substantial prison term. His rap sheet does not elicit much sympathy in a violent city where people pursue the daily crime count as casually as they scan the baseball box scores.

Media did not flock to Scriber's door on Parkwood Avenue to bring her son's death to the city's attention. There was no clarion call for the city to mourn. No march by the community to reclaim the streets. No speeches by the police commissioner, the politicians, the ministers, or the activists.

Prior to Saturday, there was no vigil.

Scriber talked to me in the front living room of the rowhouse on Parkwood that she moved into 16 years ago. She sat across from Kenya Hughes, with whom Scott had fathered two children, Keyan, 6, and Kamya, 8. Hughes and Scott had been planning to get married.

"I'm tired of the killing," Scriber, a 46-year-old nurse, told me. "Too many African-American men are being gunned down on our streets, and nobody has a solution."

Then she paused and bit her lip. She recalled the cliche — "victim of the streets" — a way of casually dismissing violence as an inevitable, and thus an unpreventable, part of Baltimore.

"My son did not come from the streets," she told me. "He was killed on the streets."

The distinction is important because she believes the labels attached to her son's killing — the street, the arrest record, the location — put this case at the back of the police priority list.

The detectives, Scriber complained, are as indifferent as the public. She said they wrongly dismissed him as a drug dealer who got away with shooting people in the past and whose past has now caught up to him.

"Because of his background," she explained. "Yes, definitely. … They looked at his record."

Detectives of course looked at Scott's record. His history with police begs close examination in a murder case. Retribution is a common motive, and there might have been people out there who believed Scott shot them and got away with it.

Scriber said Scott had no problems as a juvenile and graduated from high school. He worked in construction and had been in a plumbing apprenticeship program and working for a contractor at Johns Hopkins Hospital before he was arrested in the latest shooting in June 2006.

In that case, Scott had gotten into a dispute over a girl at a downtown club. He and a friend left and drove by the Upper Deck on North Eutaw Street, where his lawyer said they saw the men they had been arguing with. They drove on, the attorney said.

Moments later, a gunman in a car opened fire, wounding the two men on the sidewalk. One of the victims identified Scott as the shooter, and a camera caught Scott's red Thunderbird with a broken taillight being driven away. But the gun was never found, and no witnesses could back the story.

Scott spent 11 months in jail before he was acquitted at trial. He went back to his mother's basement — and told her, "You don't have to worry about me anymore." He got back into the apprenticeship program.

His attorney, Margaret Mead, described Scott as an "extraordinarily polite, nice guy," who "frequently was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I never got the impression that he frequented the criminal milieu." While in jail, he asked Mead to get him moved to get away from gangs.

But he had a vice. "He was a good-looking guy," Meade said. "He had a way with the ladies."

The lawyer kept a note in her case file: "Need to talk to him about hanging around with the wrong girls."

He was talking to a woman outside his house when he was shot and killed. It was after 2:30 in the morning when a car slowed and a passenger fired four to six rounds. Scriber described the woman as a friend but she suspects the shooter was the woman's current or ex-boyfriend. She told me she had warned her son that he had a girlfriend, and that other women were not welcome in her home.

Scriber said he was sleeping when the shots rang out. The woman who had been talking to her son knocked on her door. She rushed outside and said she knew Scott was dead. She also said she knows the woman knows who pulled the trigger, but refuses to tell police.

"I have a right as a mother, as a parent, to have closure," Scott told me.

I struggled with this column. I'm not sure if Scott is young man killed while struggling to overcome the thuggish street life or if he's simply a victim of immature choices. As I said earlier, sympathy is hard to come by in a city where murder overwhelms.

But his is yet another life snuffed out by a bullet. Scott's story, like so many others, is complex and nuanced and thus tough to categorize. I could've easily glanced at his record, passed on the story and spared my readers from what I know seems to many like wasted words over a wasted life.

But then listen to the victim's children, Keyan and Kamya, who walk by the shooting scene on their way to and from Westside Elementary School. The little boy sometimes points to the spot and says, "'That's where my father lost his life."

Said Scriber, "They want answers."

We all do.