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Crime

Loved ones mourn football player gunned down outside Baltimore’s Mervo High School: ‘He was a bright light’

When Tyrese Alsup thinks about her most rewarding experiences as a teacher in Baltimore City schools, the smiling face of Jeremiah Brogden pops into her mind.

Five years after he first entered her middle school classroom, Brogden recently started his junior year at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School with a bright future ahead of him. A talented football player, he hoped to play in college. He had recently become a father and matured into a charismatic leader among his peers, unafraid to speak openly about his dreams and struggles, according to friends and mentors.

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Less than an hour before a scheduled home game Friday evening, Brogden, 17, was shot and killed outside the school around dismissal time.

Baltimore Police arrested another teenager — who they said attended a different city school — and recovered a gun from the scene. Officials have not released the suspect’s name or provided information about a possible motive. Police said the suspect approached Brogden in a parking lot, started arguing with him and then opened fire.

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The shooting marked a tragic end to the first week of school for Baltimore students and reverberated into the second week. On Labor Day, Mervo announced a healing and recovery effort that would occur this week. Attendance at the school would be optional Tuesday, though students were invited for lunch at 11 a.m. and grade-level counseling hubs are being offered starting at noon.

“Attendance is encouraged but not required for students,” Mervo said in an Instagram post.

Mervo also scheduled a virtual meeting for parents and the community at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mervo is staggering its opening for students with 12th graders to report at 7:45 a.m., 11th graders at 9 a.m., and ninth and 10th graders at 10 a.m. School would return to normal Thursday and Friday.

As Brogden’s loved ones began to process their loss over the long weekend, they mourned a young life taken too soon.

“He was a bright light. So many other young men looked up to him,” Alsup said in an interview Sunday. “As a teacher, you just have some really special kids you’ll never forget. Jeremiah was probably number one on my list.”

Brogden put on a tough exterior and was seriously behind in math when he joined her class at Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, Alsup said. But by the end of the year, he had advanced several grade levels and formed a strong bond with his math teacher. He ended up thriving at the charter school, which serves boys in the fourth through eighth grades.

Brogden was a natural leader with a rare ability to sway his classmates by his word or example, said Lenise White, who served as the “school mother” for Brogden and several other boys at Baltimore Collegiate.

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“If he fell short of something, he asked for help,” said White, now the school’s director of operations. “If there was something Jeremiah didn’t know, he wanted to learn it, and he stuck with it. He did not start with us as the strongest reader, but when he left, he was reading beyond his grade level. And that was awesome.”

White remembers clearly the day in seventh grade that Brogden was clowning around in class, as kids will do. His teachers pulled him aside in the hallway and told him that the other students looked to him for cues about how to behave.

“He went back into the classroom and talked to everyone and aligned the other students on what they needed to be doing in the class,” she said. “And everyone settled down. He was a leader amongst his peers even when he didn’t see that himself.”

She said Brogden had two younger brothers who admired him immensely.

“And they weren’t the only ones,” she said. “There were whole neighborhoods of other young people who really looked up to him.”

Even after he left Collegiate, a framed photo of Brogden modeling his school uniform — a light blue Oxford shirt and striped tie — hung in the hallway near her classroom, Alsup said. The photo, which shows him carefully adjusting his tie, captured an expression of earnest concentration written across his face. That’s the image of him that Alsup will hold on to, and that’s how she wants him remembered.

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The fact that Brogden was killed on school grounds, in what should have been a safe space, makes his death even more difficult to process, she said.

Alsup, who grew up in Baltimore and long dreamed of becoming a teacher in the city, said students like Brogden have brought immeasurable meaning to her career. His death provides a tragic reminder of the extreme challenges facing so many male teenagers in Baltimore, where deadly gunfire has become a near-daily occurrence.

“Hopefully this is a wake-up call,” she said. “His life is gone forever; his death has affected so many. I hope these kids can see we have to do better. Conflict resolution is real. They have to put down the guns.”

Near a relative’s house Sunday evening, family members told a reporter it was still too soon to talk about the young man they lost Friday.

Around the corner, friends gathered for an informal vigil. As young kids rode bikes and lined up to buy ice cream from a nearby truck, teenagers milled around holding bunches of blue, gold and silver balloons in Brogden’s honor.

“It hurts so deep. It hits so close to home,” said Nicoy Woods, 19, a close friend from Brogden’s East Baltimore neighborhood. “We’re just trying to celebrate for him.”

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Woods graduated from Mervo in 2021 and encouraged Brogden to go there too. His friend had pictured a different future for him. One day, Brodgen would fly their friends out to watch his football games. He would be there to see Woods graduate from college.

“I never thought I’d be putting ‘RIP’ in front of his name. Never, in a million years,” Woods said.

Brogden had a positive outlook and big plans for his own future. He could always be counted on to listen and give good advice.

“When I ain’t had nowhere to sleep, I went to his house. When I lost my job, he had me,” Woods said. “He was really somebody.”

Mekhi Andrews, a friend of Brogden’s from middle school, said he was getting ready to go watch the Mervo home game Friday afternoon when he received text messages about the shooting.

“It was hard to actually believe it,” he said Sunday. “I still don’t believe it, but I realize I have to face reality.”

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Andrews said he started worrying about Brogden after middle school, when the teenager fell in with a different group of friends. Brogden would talk openly about trying to stay on the right path and become the best version of himself, his friend said. He was proud of becoming a father. He dreamed of playing college football and joining the NFL someday.

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“He was loving. He had great energy. He was a listener,” Andrews said. “He was not a perfect person. … He was a good person.”

Andrews, a rising sophomore, said he recently decided to leave Baltimore and attend school in Pennsylvania to escape the city’s violence. He said receiving the news of his friend’s death reinforced that difficult decision.

At the shooting scene Friday afternoon, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he was almost at a loss for words. Scott graduated from Mervo and often expresses support for the school. In a statement Saturday, he implored the public to help infuse more hope in Baltimore’s most vulnerable young people.

“Our children need our time, energy and love. They need us to teach them compassion and accountability to show them how to love and respect each other,” he said. “I’m asking all of Baltimore to join us in the fight for the soul of our children — and the future of Baltimore.”

Brogden’s friends said they will keep pursuing their own dreams in his honor. Even with this loss, Woods said, his memory will be a guide.

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“I know I still got him,” Woods said. “Everything I do is for him.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.


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