In a brazen display of gun violence that unfolded early Thursday in downtown Baltimore, a U.S. Army Reserve soldier was killed near his South Calvert Street apartment building and another man was hospitalized in critical condition.
Bullets flew in the 200 block of East Redwood Street, a busy strip of hotels and offices near the Inner Harbor, City Hall and Baltimore Police headquarters. Officers responded to the scene around 4 a.m. Thursday.
Sgt. Ryan Harris, 25, died after arriving at a hospital.
The Baltimore native left behind two young sons and a successful military career, his family said.
“He served his country,” said his mother, Racquel Harris. “When you think about the ripple effects of this violence, everybody attached to each individual is impacted. It is truly a tragedy.”
After the Thursday double shooting that tore apart her family, rampant gun violence continued through the weekend in Baltimore. From Friday to Sunday, at least five people were killed and 10 more injured in gunfire, leaving residents frustrated by the growing death toll.
City officials also have expressed concern about shootings becoming more brazen, including an incident over Memorial Day weekend when a teenager allegedly opened fire into a crowd near the Inner Harbor amphitheater, killing one and injuring two.
In an interview Monday afternoon, Harris’ mother said she can’t help but wonder about the person responsible for her son’s death. The homicide investigation is ongoing, but detectives have surveillance footage of the shooting and are following leads, relatives said.
“I just always wonder if people who do this have a conscience. Because they definitely took a piece of our heart,” Racquel Harris said. “The world is running on evil. We need more love.”
She thought twice before speaking with a reporter, saying she still felt numb and was concerned about the pressure of an interview. But, ultimately, she wanted people to know how deeply her son was loved, how he excelled in school and the military, how he became a protective older brother and doting father.
“He was fun, loving, full of life. People were drawn to him,” she said. “Just another life gone too soon.”
News of the shooting came with a knock on the door before dawn Thursday, said his father, Anthony Harris. The family rushed to the hospital, where they received the news they dreade. In the hours that followed, a stream of visitors passed through their home as friends and co-workers came to pay their respects.
The living room is filled with family photos, including a framed picture of Ryan Harris — his Army uniform perfectly pressed, his expression serious — on a table facing the front door. He recently had moved from the family home to his apartment on South Calvert, relatives said.
Colleagues in the Army Reserve spoke about Harris in glowing terms. They said he had a huge work ethic, a contagious smile and a knack for computers that made him excel as an information technology specialist.
He had deployed to the Middle East, family said. Most recently, he was working full time for the 200th Military Police Command at its headquarters in Fort Meade and taking college classes.
In a Facebook post announcing his death Saturday, military police officials said Harris was “well-liked and respected by his peers and leaders alike.”
“Sgt. Harris reminded me of my son,” Commanding Gen. John Hussey said in the post. “I could tell that he had a solid upbringing. I admired his demeanor. He was a young man who was doing the right things, and it absolutely hurts me deeply to learn of this news.”
Maj. Merissa Blackwell, who worked closely with Harris as a supervisor, said he’s irreplaceable.
“Anytime we asked him to do anything — and I mean anything — there was no hesitation. He would do it with a smile on his face,” she said in a phone interview Monday.
That smile was the image that popped into her mind the moment she learned of his death. Then she thought about his children.
“Pure shock,” she said. “When it hits this close to home, it hits different.”
Blackwell said she was driving when another soldier delivered the news Thursday. She quickly pulled over.
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Two days later, she was shopping at the Tysons Corner Center mall when gunfire inside the building sent panicked patrons and workers running for cover. Fairfax County Police said no one was injured in the shooting, which stemmed from a group of people fighting.
Amid the chaos, Blackwell said she immediately thought of Harris and his final moments — even as her military training kicked in, telling her to focus on locating an exit and helping other people to safety.
“Gun violence is really out of control everywhere,” she said. “It’s just like, you never know. I do wonder if God is trying to tell me something.”
Sgt. Arielle Lugtu, who also worked with Harris, said his computer skills saved the day more than once.
“He had a brilliant mind,” she said in a phone interview Monday, pausing to steady her voice. “He was one of those soldiers that embodied all of the Army values.”
She said he often talked about his kids, how they inspired him to finish college — he had earned an associate degree and was working toward his bachelor’s — and plan for the future.
It could be many years before his sons, ages 2 and 5, are able to truly process their loss, Racquel Harris said. In the meantime, the family is “taking things one day at a time,” she said, hoping for justice and praying for peace.