Hundreds hold vigil for Mount Vernon shooting victims

Joseph Ulrich Sr. and Rose Ulrich attend a vigil in Mount Vernon for their son, Alex Ulrich, who was killed last week in a double shooting in Mid-Town, and Larry Peterson, who was critically injured.

Many of the hundreds gathered Tuesday at Mount Vernon's Washington Monument had their perceptions of safety shaken last week, after a double shooting that critically wounded a gregarious neighborhood ambassador and claimed the life of a recent transplant looking to jump-start a photography career.

But Rose Ulrich, the mother of fatal shooting victim Alex Ulrich, 40, told the crowd to have faith.

"Alex loved Baltimore. … He loved walking around, visiting with friends, going to the Walters Art Gallery, loved the park, loved this area," said Ulrich, who along with her family drove in from Western Maryland. "This is a safe place. It'll get safer. And the people who live in this area can be assured that everything is being done to find out who did this."

The shooting alarmed residents, not only because both of the victims were well-known — 56-year-old Larry Peterson, a longtime neighborhood ambassador known as the area's "unofficial mayor," was also critically injured — but because it was seemingly random. Police have no suspects and know of no motive.

Of the suspects, Rose Ulrich said it was "God's place to judge" while urging anyone with information to come forward. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else," she said.

Along North Charles Street Tuesday, many stores displayed police fliers offering a reward for information about the shootings as well as posters and sandwich-board signs extending sympathies for the victims. Friends have been keeping each other posted on social media and signing up for shifts to visit Peterson's hospital bedside.

"I've never seen the community so strong," said Robert Lynch, a 26-year-old technology consultant who knew both victims. "The flooding of support and love and friendship in the community, it's what's been holding everyone up."

The incident has raised awareness of crime in the neighborhood, which officials maintain is one of the safest in the city. Even as police stepped up patrols in Mid-Town in response to the shooting, officials said two women were robbed while walking near the monument late Monday. There have been more than 30 robberies reported in Mount Vernon and Mid-Town this year, police statistics show.

Ari Magwood, the manager of the Brewer's Art, said he no longer leaves the restaurant alone late at night — he often left around the time the shootings happened, he noted — preferring to have another member of his staff wait with him.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said commanders were increasing deployments in the neighborhood. Residents can expect to see the horseback unit and bicycle officers, he said.

"The chief of patrol [Col. Dean Palmere] is questioning the deployment in the Central District to make sure it's sufficient," Guglielmi said. "The community needs a show of force, and we need to find out who's responsible for this violence. We'll pour in everything we can to figure that out."

Guglielmi said the increased presence won't detract from other neighborhoods. City Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood but also areas of East Baltimore where gun violence is a far more regular occurrence, said the saturation was appropriate.

"Whenever there's a murder or a vicious crime of this type, and while the leads may be hot, we should saturate the community with as much resources as we can," Stokes said. "That should happen in all neighborhoods, all the time."

Lorie Yagjian, the owner of the Mount Vernon Stable and Saloon, said she hopes police solve the case "so we don't have to go through this again."

"When you have something like this that usually doesn't happen in this neighborhood, it's in the back of your mind it might happen again," she added.

Ken Baker, 24, has lived in the neighborhood for three years and said, "You don't expect things like this to happen here."

Paul Warren, the vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, has known Peterson for 25 years and said Peterson wouldn't want residents to be discouraged.

"If the tables were turned, he would be there for any of us, and it wouldn't deter him by any means in terms of his enthusiasm for the community," Warren said in an interview.

"I'd put this more to a lightning strike," he said. "If lightning strikes a close friend, it's only human nature that you'll be afraid of storms. We're safer than our suburban brethren who have to get in the car and drive long distances, statistically."

Lynch first saw word that Peterson had been shot on Facebook on Friday morning. Later that night, a friend posted that Ulrich was missing after last being seen leaving an area bar around 1 a.m.

"Something inside me almost knew it was Alex," he said. "A few hours later was when it came out that [the other victim] was him."

Like others, though, Lynch said he remained resolute in his support for the neighborhood.

"This is my home," he said. "This is really a true community, where everybody knows everybody. That isn't going to change."

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.