After a pregnant woman and her fiance were shot to death in a vehicle outside their Barclay home Thursday night, doctors were able to deliver the premature infant, who relatives said was fighting to survive after losing both parents.
The mother, identified by police as Angel Morgan Heather Smith, was about seven months pregnant, according to two family members who visited the shooting scene Friday after learning the devastating news.
“I am extremely saddened, upset and angered,” said a cousin of the male victim who identified herself as Minnie. “I’m so sick of Baltimore City having so many killings. Do not go around shooting people’s family members. It’s senseless.”
The double homicide was the latest act of gun violence in a particularly violent week, which included two mass shootings just hours apart on Tuesday and has sparked outrage from both Baltimore residents and city leaders.
“It’s just totally out of control,” Councilman Robert Stokes Sr. said. “There’s just shootings all the time.”
Police responded to two other homicides, and three nonfatal shootings overnight Friday. An 18-year-old was killed inside a home in East Baltimore. Another man was found dead inside a vacant house in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood, and three other men were injured in separate shootings across the city.
Violence continued Friday afternoon when police said a young man was shot in the chest and seriously injured near the Cross Street Market in South Baltimore.
2022 bloodshed outpacing last year
Already the city has counted 125 homicides, and 253 other people have been injured in shootings so far in 2022 — almost a 10% increase compared to the same time last year. Other crimes, such as robberies and carjackings, are also up this year.
Stokes, whose district is also where 69-year-old Evelyn Player was fatally stabbed in a church last year, said state leaders should send Maryland state troopers to the city to help Baltimore Police address the violence.
“The police can’t do this themselves. It’s totally out of control,” he said.
Mayor Brandon Scott also expressed frustration after Smith and her fiance were killed.
“We cannot have folks shooting at pregnant women in our city,” Scott said. “A baby is being brought into the world after their mother is shot. … If that doesn’t change your mind about what is happening in your community or check the people around you, I don’t know what will.”
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who also spoke at the scene Thursday night, called the shooting a brazen, deliberate and cowardly killing.
“This was a very, very violent and brazen assault on two individuals, three individuals rather, in this block tonight,” he said. “And once again, we’re standing here talking about the brazenness, the cowardice, the deliberate attempt to harm and kill individuals with gun violence.”
Police have not identified the male victim, but relatives said the expecting parents lived on the block where the shooting unfolded. Police said the victims were sitting in their car in the 300 block of East 23rd Street off North Calvert Street when two shooters allegedly opened fire around 8:10 p.m.
Harrison said another vehicle pulled up alongside the victims in the moments before the shooting and a person fired from the passenger window while the driver also got out and fired, Harrison said.
Both victims were taken to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, where they died. The baby was delivered before the woman was pronounced dead, Harrison said.
The newborn underwent emergency surgery and remained in critical condition Friday afternoon, according to police.
Generally, a baby delivered after 23 or 24 weeks can survive, according to medical experts. Those born prematurely can face additional health complications.
Newborns whose mothers have been shot or suffered other trauma, such as injuries from a vehicle accident, are at greater risk when delivered at a younger gestational age and when the mother’s condition is more severe, said Dr. Robert Atlas, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center.
When a pregnant woman is treated for a gunshot wound or another serious injury, the focus is on treating the mother, said Dr. David T. Efron, Chief of Trauma at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
“We do whatever we can to save the mother,” he said. “The mother is really the life support system for the baby.”
Trauma cases often require CPR and resuscitation, which can cause physiological stress to the baby and affect blood flow. Care also requires a special response from staff with expertise in trauma, pediatric care and obstetrics.
Atlas serves on the state Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which reviews maternal death cases across Maryland. She said every year they review one or two cases of pregnant women who have been killed, usually related to intimate partner violence.
‘It’s just senseless’
Of Smith’s killing, Atlas said, “it’s just senseless.”
The Baltimore area has had several cases where pregnant woman died from violence over the past several years. In 2016, in Barclay — the same neighborhood Thursday’s shooting took place — another pregnant woman, Vanessa Sims, was shot at eight months pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Chance, and both survived. Jasmine Kennedy, who was 34 weeks pregnant, died after she was shot in Parkville in 2018. Her daughter, Kennedy, survived.
It’s unclear what happened to Akia Eggleston, who was eight months pregnant when she vanished before her baby shower in 2017. But this year, officials ruled their deaths homicides and have charged the father.
On Friday, a team of outreach workers from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement gathered near the scene on East 23rd Street and canvassed the area, offering mental health services and trauma support to residents.
Agency director Shantay Jackson said one of the families they spoke with described how a bullet came crashing into their home during the attack Thursday night. A front window of one rowhouse on the otherwise quiet tree-lined street was boarded up with plywood.
“We’re having very real conversations about what people need in the immediate aftermath of a horrific, tragic event,” Jackson said. “This activated some long-forgotten traumas.”
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She said recognizing and addressing that trauma is key to healing. Her team had plans to canvass two other neighborhoods Friday afternoon: the Milton-Montford area in East Baltimore — where one person was killed and three others injured Tuesday afternoon when a gunman fired 60 rounds from an assault rifle — and Boarman Avenue near Reisterstown Road, where five people were injured in gunfire hours later on Tuesday.
While the outreach workers started knocking on doors and speaking with residents along East 23rd Street late Friday morning, Baltimore Police detectives finished up analyzing evidence on the scene. Firefighters later used buckets of bleach and water to wash away any remaining residue from the street.
A plea for prevention
Kristen Mack, who lives in the area with her husband and son, said city leaders and police need to focus more on preventing violence, rather than taking a reactive stance. She said a handful of vacant houses in the neighborhood are problematic, giving her a feeling of unease even before the Thursday double homicide.
“We need more community policing,” she said. “There’s a lot of mistrust for the police — and for good reason. You’ve got to win back that trust somehow. Just be a part of the community.”
Meanwhile, family members of the victims said they want justice.
“All I can say is, whoever did it, you will be found out,” said another cousin of the male victim who identified herself as Kelly.
Detectives are asking anyone with relevant information to call 410-396-2100. To remain anonymous, please call Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7lockup.