Sitting on the stoop of a Formstone-covered rowhouse, Aaron Sutton rapped about the dark realities of being a young black man in Baltimore.
“Living here you got to fight. You will be lucky to survive, also live past 25, also make it out alive, but I’m out here taking flight," he sang in a recent music video, his debut single under the name “#A100.”
The 19-year-old who went by “A.J.” was interested in pursuing a music career while simultaneously working toward an engineering career and wrapping up his freshman year at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
"He accomplished a lot and could have accomplished so much,” Chanel Blowe, his oldest sister, said.
Sutton will never fulfill either of his dreams, unable to make it past the bleak milestones highlighted in his lyrics.
Shortly before midnight Thursday, Sutton and another man were found fatally shot inside a vehicle in the 5600 block of Wayne Ave. in West Baltimore’s Howard Park neighborhood. Police have not identified the second victim, or a possible motive or suspects in the shooting.
Sutton’s mother, Wanda Sutton, described how her son and his potential impressed so many people.
“He was multitalented, like a Renaissance man,” she said, recalling how he could play a song on the piano just by listening to the melody. He won a talent show as a child, she said, by belting out The Jackson 5 classic “I Want You Back,” among other songs.
Sutton graduated last year from Mount Saint Joseph High School, a Catholic preparatory school in Southwest Baltimore, where he played baseball. As his freshman year at Howard wound down, he was excited about a project he and his classmates were working on. They were applying for a patent to create a virtual reality program to help people with attention deficit disorder to focus on a lesson.
“Aaron was one of my absolutely best and favorite students,” wrote Matthew Cobb, Sutton’s former teacher at East Baltimore’s Hampstead Hill Academy, in a Facebook post about Sutton’s death.
“He was an inspiration for everyone who knew him and he had so much ahead of him," Cobb wrote. “Top scholar, athlete, up-and-coming musical artist, friend, son, and so many other things to so many people."
Sutton’s mother said he could be both quiet but also “the life of the party." He was also modest. Whenever Sutton spoke of his accomplishments to others, she recalled, he would become embarrassed and ask her “why are you always bragging on me?"
Sutton had returned home from campus in recent months, like so many college students, because of the coronavirus pandemic that shuttered campuses across the country. His mother said he quickly began working at an Amazon warehouse on Broening Highway.
Sutton remembered a recent conversation during which he encouraged her to continue sewing and selling face masks, which she had been doing during the pandemic. Although sales had slowed, Sutton said, her son told her to keep sewing, anticipating an increase in demand in the fall and winter when health officials have warned of a possible second spike in cases.
On Thursday, after returning home from another Amazon shift and eating dinner, he went out and never returned.
Later, investigators showed up at his mother’s door and broke the news.
Though Sutton said her son showed so much talent and promise — and had no troubles with anyone — she constantly worried about his safety as a young black man in a city that experiences so much violence.
“There’s not space for a black man in Baltimore,” she said, describing fears of her son being murdered or being hurt or harassed by police. “I’m just scared every time my son leaves the house because of the violence in Baltimore.
"My fear’s realized.”
Sutton is just one 130 people killed in homicides this year, the majority of victims being black men.
“I just feel like young black men get danger coming at them from different directions” either from police or “black men and black men crime," Sutton said.
Baltimore has gone through days of protests since Friday, as have dozens of other cities since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last week. A video shows Floyd being arrested by four Minneapolis police officers, including one who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes before he died. One officer has been charged with murder and manslaughter.
Sutton said “people don’t have a good perception," of young black men. Even with her own son, for example, strangers “don’t know of all the wonderful things he did and lives he touched,” she said.
Sutton said she is still grieving her son’s death but has found an inexplicable calm thanks to her faith.
“His death is living proof that God is real. I feel a sense of peace. There’s no way I would’ve felt this peace except that God has the master plan," she said. “His death was part of God’s master plan.”
The family plans a celebration of his life and is considering holding it in a baseball field big enough to accommodate a crowd of mourners while maintaining social distancing measures, his mother said.
“He was really just a wonderful young man," his sister said. “We won’t get to see his potential and what he would’ve done for others."
Anyone with information is asked to call city homicide detectives at 410-396-2100.