A mother and her 7-year-old son were found shot to death Thursday in their Southwest Baltimore home — the latest victims in the city's deadliest month in nearly two decades.
Shaken family members identified the victims as Jennifer Jeffrey-Browne, 31, and Kester "Tony" Browne. The two lived on a quiet block of rowhouses in the city's Uplands neighborhood, which was roped off with crime-scene tape for much of the day as detectives investigated.
"I cannot think of who would want her dead," said Danielle Wilder, Jeffrey-Browne's sister.
"You gotta be really evil," said Wilder's husband, Seamea Cammue. "You gotta have no soul."
Police and city leaders, meanwhile, denounced the killings as the latest acts of violence in a month that has seen more homicides — 38 — than any since 1996.
The deaths of Jeffrey-Browne and her son brought the number of killings in the city this year to 111, well ahead of last year's pace. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called it an "unspeakable tragedy."
"The level of violence we are seeing in our city ... it's something that keeps me up at night," she said Thursday.
The mayor said she is working with police on "being more nimble and more aggressive in investigating these incidents, but also understanding that the police can't do it alone."
"There is a small number of very violent individuals who, if let unchecked not just by the police but by the community, will continue to bring destruction and violence into our communities," she said.
Police did not release information about a possible motive or suspect. They said officers went to the home in the 100 block of Upmanor Road about 8:20 a.m. on a report of a shooting, and found the woman and boy with gunshot wounds to the head. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.
"This person is an absolute coward to shoot a child in the head and snatch his life away from him," said Sgt. Jarron Jackson, a police spokesman.
Throughout the day, Browne family members and friends visited their neighborhood in search of answers.
A man approached the police tape and heard who had been killed.
"Tell me you're lying!" he demanded.
Men removed bodies from the house on stretchers and wheeled them to a white van parked in the middle of the street. A woman screamed.
Cammue said Tony Browne loved riding his bike, playing in the yard and visiting Gunpowder State Park.
"He loved the beach," Cammue said.
The deaths devastated Baltimore International Academy, the language-immersion charter school in Anthonyville, where the boy attended second grade. Principal John Enkiri said teachers spent the day answering students' questions while trying to process the news themselves.
Enkiri said the boy began the Chinese program in kindergarten. He described him as a "gentle soul."
Enkiri's office is next to the boy's classroom. Through tears, he recalled hearing the singing and laughter through the walls that encouraged him to pop in.
"He's always smiling when you entered," he said.
Wilder said she had last spoken to her sister — a "fun and bubbly" woman — Wednesday morning.
A neighbor on Upmanor Road thought it was odd that she hadn't seen the mother and the son leave the home for school Thursday morning, Wilder said, and called Jeffrey-Browne's family.
Wilder said her sister grew up in Catonsville. About a month ago, she said, Jeffrey-Browne married a man who is incarcerated.
Enkiri said the bond between mother and child was apparent. She picked him up from school every day.
"I was always impressed by his mother's love for him," Enkiri said. "He was everything to her. She was everything to him."
The boy had a bout with asthma and missed some time from school, the principal said, but came back eager.
"He really did catch up," Enkiri said. "His mom did everything possible to make sure that he caught up."
City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council's public safety committee, urged people to come forward with information to help solve the killings.
"The entire Baltimore community, men in particular, should be hunting down all information and this coward," he said. "Anyone who knows anything should speak up, and if they don't, should be treated as if they did it themselves.
"The trash that killed a caring mother and a child full of energy should stand tall and try to regain some sense of humanity by turning themselves in. We will find you."
Scott called Jeffrey-Browne "a parent who was using every opportunity available for her child, going more than half way across the city to provide her child with a better educational opportunity."
Six juveniles have been killed this year and 18 have been victims of nonfatal shootings, Scott said. This time last year, seven juveniles had been killed, but nonfatal shootings of juveniles are up 500 percent this year over last, Scott said.
"They're children and people who are shooting them are adults," Scott said.
Neighbor Donald Barber, 64, said the area is typically quiet and "very peaceful."
"I'm just praying for the family that they get over the shock of what happened," Barber said.
Homicide detectives ask anyone with information to call 410-396-2100. Rawlings-Blake urged witnesses to come forward.
"If you give us that information, we want to thank you and reward you," she said. "It is going to take all of us coming together to get on top of this issue."
The head of Baltimore's police union said Thursday that criminals have become "empowered" since the unrest that followed the death last month of Freddie Gray.
Gray, 25, died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. On the day of his funeral the city erupted into riots, arson and looting.
Six officers have been charged, and demonstrations since have been peaceful. But street violence in Baltimore has surged in the weeks since, with 43 people killed and dozens more shot and injured.
During the same period, department data show, officers have made less than half as many arrests as before the unrest. That has led to questions about whether they are easing up on the job.
Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said officers now are more afraid of being arrested than being shot.
"The criminals are taking advantage of the situation in Baltimore since the unrest," he said in a statement. "Criminals feel empowered now. There is no respect. Police are under siege in every quarter. They are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty."
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Colin Campbell, Justin George, Erica L. Green and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.