Margaret Mackey talks about her son Bernard Mackey, 51, who was killed on September 30. This year, there's been an increase in the number of older victims over 50-years-old being murdered in Baltimore. (Baltimore Sun video)
On a large board in Margaret Mackey’s Northwest Baltimore dining room are dozens of pictures of her eldest son, Bernard, who was killed in September.
There’s a weathered black-and-white photo from his infancy, a discolored Northwestern High school portrait and a more recent Snapchat image with the caption “can’t believe ur gone,” with blue heart and frowning face emojis — evidence of a life spanning 51 years.
Bernard Mackey was a father of four — including two adult children — a longtime homeowner and entrepreneur who started several businesses before he was fatally shot Sept. 30 in Northeast Baltimore.
“It’s still to me unreal,” said Mackey’s mother, 72, who did not expect to outlive her adult son . “Sometimes I feel like I can’t catch my breath, I can’t breathe. It is so painful and then it seem likes this is not happening. When am I going to wake up? It happens to other people. It’s not happening to me,” she said.
As Baltimore surpasses 300 homicides for the third straight year, a greater share of the casualties include more like Mackey with decades of life experience, who leave behind children, grandchildren and elderly parents.
While the average age of a homicide victim in Baltimore is 32, Mackey is one of 28 people over the age of 50 who have been killed this year. That’s an increase from 23 in all of last year and just 15 in 2015. No other year has seen such a large number of victims over 50, according to Baltimore Sun data going back to 2007.
Among the latest victims was a 57-year-old woman, Janie Mccray, who was found unresponsive in the 5700 block of California Boulevard near the Forest Park Golf Course on Halloween. An autopsy determined that Mccray died from a gunshot wound to her upper body. Her case remains open.
Another recent victim — the city’s 296th homicide — was a 54-year-old man who police have not yet named. Police said he was killed in a shooting about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday in the 5300 block of Cordelia Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. He was taken to an area hospital, where he died of his injuries.
Police have not identified a single main reason fueling the increase in older victims. Police believe Mackey’s death resulted from a domestic dispute.
On the morning of his death, Mackey, and a 57-year-old man were shot in the 2900 block of Harview Avenue near Harford Road. Mackey was shot in the head while the second man, whom Margaret Mackey said was her son’s cousin, was hit in the shoulder.
Police have arrested and charged 23-year-old Caitlyn Raiford of Reisterstown with first-degree murder. She does not have an attorney listed in online court records. She was arrested on Oct. 18, four days after Mackey’s memorial service was held at Simmons Memorial Baptist Church in Sandtown-Winchester.
According to charging documents, Mackey got into a physical altercation with a woman at a home on the block. The woman then called someone to come get her. A car pulled up and two men exited and confronted Mackey, the documents say, when the front male passenger in the vehicle pulled out a gun and fired two rounds at Mackey and his cousin. A witness identified Raiford as the female driver who drove away with the shooter. Police have not identified a shooter.
In another incident earlier this month, police said 68-year-old Robert Breen was shot and killed inside a home during a dispute in the 5500 Summerfield Avenue in Frankford. Police have identified an acquaintance, Joseph Masilek, 45, of New Windsor, as a suspect in the Oct. 3 shooting.
In other killings, robbery appears to be the motive, including in a shooting at the Dollar General in Edmondson Village on August 8.
Deric Ford Sr., the 54-year-old father of 12 and manager of the Dollar General, was fatally shot as he prepared to close the store for the evening. Ford also worked at Cookies Men's Warehouse, Ehrlich Pest Control, Sears Service and Parts, according to his obituary.
“He always greeted you, ‘Hello, ma’am.’ He was respectful to everyone,” Veronica Browder, a frequent customer, recalled.
Police later arrested 27-year-old Michael Thompson in Ford’s death and a separate murder on April 24. At a news conference announcing the arrest, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis spoke of Thompson’s “impulse and a reckless disregard for life.” Thompson’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
In some killings—including the city’s oldest victim this year, 97-year-old Waddell Tate—police have not determined a clear motive. Tate, who was affectionately called “Pop-Pop,” was found by family members unresponsive in his East Baltimore home on July 21. An autopsy later determined he was died of blunt force trauma. Police said nothing was known to have been stolen from the home.
“It's so sad they would take advantage of a 97-year-old man that could not do nothing but cry for help,” said Deborah Broom, a relative. “Whatever their intentions, they didn't have to do this.”
Police believe that in some cases, older individuals who have been released from prison are clashing with younger criminals who are more inclined to commit violence.
“You have older people who are coming back into society, re-entering society and the drug game, and the rules have changed and they become victims,” said T.J. Smith. a police department spokesman.
State corrections data do not suggest there are more such killings, however. The number of homicide victims who were under corrections department supervision has consistently been about 30 percent of those killed in the city, corrections officials say.
Baltimore has seen a significant increase in overall homicides since the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, and the protests, looting and rioting that followed. There were 344 homicides in the city in 2015 and 317 last year. Before that, the city had not recorded 300 killings since 1999. Baltimore’s 300th homicide this year was reported late Thursday.
Police believe the continued rise in overall killings is fueled by a culture of retaliation, criminal activity involving repeat offenders and the large number of illegal guns on the street.
“We’re running into the issue this year, and years past, of the same people who get out of jail and do the same thing they’ve done, or it’s retribution for another crime,” Smith said.
Police officials note that there’s been an increase in the number of homicide cases that are solved.
The rate of closed cases is 54 percent, up from about 30 percent in 2015.
That there’s been an arrest in Mackey’s death offers little comfort to his mother, who does not understand why anyone wanted to take her oldest son’s life. She fought back tears as she spoke of his upcoming birthday which falls on Thanksgiving when family will come to her home for dinner. She dreads having to clear out his house and said she hasn’t been able to set foot in it since his death.
Margaret Mackey said her son was a homeowner, who supported himself on different businesses. He used to run a small restaurant called Moochie’s on Eutaw Street, near Saratoga, that served Jamaican dishes. After graduating from North American Trade School, he started his own trucking business BKJM. He encouraged others to become drivers and he would offer them jobs, she said.
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