When Barbara Fitch-Henderson tested positive for the coronavirus in April 2020, she could barely keep her youngest son, Isaiah Willis, away from her for her two-week quarantine.
The Digital Harbor High School graduate, a funny, easygoing family man, was a constant presence at her West Baltimore home, she said. Willis loved his siblings and his nieces and nephews — and had a son of his own on the way, his mother said.
“He was just so excited,” she said.
But instead of final preparations for the baby shower this Saturday, Willis’ family is now making arrangements for his funeral services. The 20-year-old was killed in a triple shooting Sunday night in Northwest Baltimore, one of nine people killed over a violent Memorial Day weekend in the city, police say.
His mother said she didn’t know the circumstances of her youngest son’s death, beyond the “running gunbattle” described by police. But she could only assume he was trying to help or protect a friend, she said.
“I just want to find justice for my son, so he’ll be at peace,” she said.
Memorial Day weekend is often violent in Baltimore, and homicides typically mount in the summer months. But the second consecutive year of nine killings over the holiday weekend prompted police and city officials to renew promises of efforts to halt the bloodshed.
“We will not accept for things to continue,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in an interview Tuesday.
The mayor met Tuesday with Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Deputy Commissioner of Operations Sheree Briscoe to discuss the weekend violence and strategies moving forward, he said.
“It’s about making sure they are adjusting their deployments and putting people in the right places,” Scott said, “to make sure they are using resources in the most effective way, and areas we know where we have gun violence.”
The Democrat said he also spoke to Harrison and Briscoe about summer plans, as well as the department’s partnerships in the community.
“We have to continue to push all of these things,” Scott said.
Harrison said detectives have identified persons of interest in several of the weekend shootings. Most of the victims were targeted, and some were killed by domestic partners, the commissioner said.
But not all: The broad-daylight killing of a 39-year-old man Sunday morning in the 2300 block of Orleans Street is believed to have been a road-rage incident, the police commissioner said.
“It’s a large number of violent incidents,” he said in an interview Tuesday, requesting the community’s help to solve them.
The triple homicide that killed Willis, Julius Dunbar III, 22, and Torron Jackson, 26, in Central Park Heights on Sunday spanned three blocks, with a victim located in each, the police commissioner said.
Detectives believe “there were people shooting at one another,” said Harrison, adding: “whether it was these three [is] unknown.”
Anticipating more violence over the coming months, district commanders have developed specialized deployment strategies, targeting certain areas and evaluating trends and patterns, Harrison said.
“It’s really an enhancement of what we are doing all year long,” he said.
But, despite the police department’s efforts, Harrison said, targeted acts of violence can still occur. The weekend violence happened despite a “robust deployment strategy,” in which police nearly doubled staffing each night over the holiday weekend, he said.
“We had way more officers on the street than normal,” he said.
When Willis last saw his mother, the day before his death, he hugged her three separate times, she said.
The final time felt like he didn’t want to let go, she said, “like maybe he knew it might be the last time.”
Willis was born July 10, 2000, at St. Agnes Hospital, Fitch-Henderson said. Before Digital Harbor, he attended William Pinderhughes and Harlem Park elementary/middle schools, she said. He had worked as a security guard after high school and nurtured dreams of attending art school, she said.
A recreation aide, Fitch-Henderson was with patients at work Sunday at Westgate Hills Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center when she learned the news from her daughter.
“When she told me, everything just — it was just too much for me,” she said. “When I fell back, I almost busted my head. My co-workers and my residents helped me find a place to sit down and take a breather.”
Willis’ death compounded his family’s pain from a recent loss from the pandemic. LaTanya Fitch, Fitch-Henderson’s niece, died at age 44 from COVID-19 in December, she said.
“Now I’ve got to deal with losing my son,” she said. “I don’t know how to even describe it.”
A pair of teenagers — a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl — also were injured in separate incidents over the violent holiday weekend. The girl was in critical condition, and the boy was expected to survive his injury, police said.
The 17-year-old girl was found shot in the head at 5:28 p.m. Sunday in the 500 block of Denison St. in the Lower Edmondson Village neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore. The department said the shooting was possibly “domestic-related.”
The 15-year-old was shot just before 1 a.m. Tuesday in the 1200 Block of North Eden St. in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood, police said. The boy, whose name was not released, was taken to a hospital for treatment, police said. Eastern detectives are asking anyone with information to contact them at 410-396-2433.
In addition to Willis, Dunbar and Jackson, who died in the shooting around 9 p.m. Sunday in the 3500 block of Spaulding Avenue, Baltimore police Tuesday identified several other homicide victims killed over the Memorial Day weekend.
On Friday, John Hall III, 68, was killed in the 3800 block of Clarks Lane, and Harry Prather, 61, was killed in the first block of South Carey Street. Neither Hall’s nor Prather’s families could be reached Tuesday.
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On Saturday, 21-year-old Cincere Johnson was killed in the 800 block of Stirling Street, and Clinton Gray, 46, was killed in the 1700 block of Braddish Avenue, police said. Erik Wilson, 41, was killed in the 3400 block of 5th Street, police said.
Johnson’s family was not available Tuesday. The families of Gray, Wilson, Dunbar and Jackson could not be reached. Anyone with information in the killings is asked to call police at 410-396-2100.
Fitch-Henderson recalled her son insisting on her presence at the upcoming celebration of his firstborn.
“Don’t miss the baby shower, now,” she said he told her. “You’re the grandma. You’ve gotta be there.”
Services for Willis are incomplete, his mother said. The mother of his unborn son, who is due in late July or early August, is being surrounded by the family’s love in their collective grief, Fitch-Henderson said.
“She knows she has all of our support, each and every one of us,” she said. “We’re gonna all be there for her.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Phillip Jackson contributed to this article.