Ala’junaye Davis was a ninth-grade honors student at the National Academy Foundation High School in Baltimore who loved hip-hop music and could always be seen in her bright colored clothing. Her teacher, Destiny Bingham, described her as “studious and naturally gifted."
But even more than rap music and dancing, her family remembers Davis as a loving daughter, sister and niece whom someone fatally shot on May 30.
As Baltimore grapples with a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, an intense mayoral election and mass protests against police brutality, the city’s lingering problem — homicides — continues out of the spotlight, overshadowed even during a particularly violent spring.
But its victims, including Ala’junaye Davis’ family, her classmates and the school community, are still reeling with the shock of yet another violent tragedy. In May alone, 39 people were killed.
Davis’ honors class included at least 12 students, and she was “one of the strongest writers” among them, said Bingham, who is in her second year at the school. A team of ninth-grade teachers has banded together, collecting funds for Davis’ family ahead of funeral services.
“The entire school is grieving,” Bingham said. “She was well liked and well respected among her peers. She was uplifting when other students were going through personal tragedies and traumas.”
Davis was shot and killed a little after 3 o’clock on a Saturday morning in the 2100 block of Wilkens Ave. in the Bentalou-Smallwood neighborhood on the city’s west side. Baltimore police said Davis was shot in the throat.
Davis’ family was stunned.
Her aunt, Destiny West, said Davis was a “smart and intelligent” person who loved dancing and had a “golden smile.”
West says she hopes Davis’ death brings more attention to the gun violence that has plagued Baltimore for years.
Baltimore homicides total 135 so far this year, outpacing the 128 recorded at this time last year, Baltimore Police said.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, violent crime and shootings in Baltimore slowed down a bit, a welcome relief coming off the deadliest year in the city’s history. But the good feelings were long gone by May 24, when the city saw its deadliest day of the month with four people killed in one day.
Erricka Bridgeford, an anti-gun violence activist and co-organizer of Baltimore Ceasefire, said she is “heartbroken when people are killed." And while Baltimore’s violence persists, so does the effort to stop it, she said.
People in the city are trying to get a handle on the gun violence, Bridgeford said, and there have been studies showing that Ceasefire weekends held several times per year in the city have helped.
Bridgeford wants more people to get involved and pay attention to the community work already going on, and not to do anything to hinder the slow progress being made by Ceasefire and others trying to address the city’s gun and violence problems.
“You have to just purposely not be paying attention [to community work] when you say no one is showing up [in response] when people are being killed in a community on a daily basis. They are not actually paying attention to what is going on in Baltimore."
Baltimore police say they are paying attention and are gearing up for what they call the “challenge in the different tempo that the summer months" present and are fine-tuning tactics often.
“Not only do we adjust crime and deployment strategies frequently, but each district produces weekly crime plans to implement appropriate staffing, deployment, business checks and community engagement," Lindsey Eldridge, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Police leaders and rank-and-file officers are also coming up with plans to keep focusing on violent crime while addressing the extra work caused by marches and demonstrations that have sprouted in Baltimore and across the country.
“The department has created contingencies to deploy resources as needed to allow residents to exercise their First Amendment rights and to keep them safe during peaceful demonstrations in the city,” Eldridge said.”
Time and again family members have been left with limited options for how to mourn loved ones during the pandemic because funeral homes must limit the number of people inside at one time. Some families have struggled with organizing funeral services while others have resorted to spontaneous homegoing services in neighborhoods.
Bridgeford said she and others will bless the murder space where Davis was killed. She has contacted the teenager’s family members, she said.
While Davis’ family still deals with the death and all the stress of COVID-19 and statewide restrictions, they also want the killer found and punished.
“We just want justice for our princess. We all have a hole in heart that’s missing — she’s gone, but her spirit and smile are still with us,” West said.
Metro Crime Stoppers is offering a $4,000 cash reward for information connected to her death, police said.
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Another fatal shooting, on the same day Davis died, has another Baltimore family grieving and seeking answers.
Stephen Pendergarst, 31, was killed in the 300 block of Key Highway around 4:01 a.m, about 40 minutes after police found Ala’junaye Davis.
Jameelah Pendergarst, his wife, said he was “an amazing man, fantastic father and a true friend to everyone.”
Pendergarst attended Baltimore County schools and graduated from Woodlawn High School. He worked at the F&S Maranto Italian Bakery on Pearl Street, his wife said.
“He was loved by everyone he met and had an infectious smile and addictive sense of humor,” Jameelah Pendergarst said of her husband.