Frustration, faith collide after 18-year-old is shot near center of Baltimore's unrest

Man shot in the chest in Penn North neighborhood — near epicenter of April's unrest.

The West Baltimore corner was again full of police officers. A strip of yellow police tape stretched across the street less than a block from the intersection at the center of April's riots.

An 18-year-old man was shot in the chest and torso shortly before 11 a.m. Monday near the corner of North Avenue and North Carey Street, police said.

The man was in grave condition. Police said they had detained a person of interest in the shooting.

Police closed the busy avenue to cars and pedestrians. At least eight orange evidence markers sat on the sidewalk and on stoops about two doors down from the All-N-1 corner grocery.

As detectives scoured the taped-off scene, an exasperated Charlene Feagin stood near the edge, her 5-year-old daughter by her side. An officer told her she couldn't get to the grocery store.

"This is ridiculous," she said.

Feagin observed that neighborhood shootings of this kind — which followed another violent weekend in another violent month in a year when homicides are spiking — don't attract as much attention as the unrest. But they disrupt a community all the same.

Her frustration — which was shared by others — was palpable. Then the Rev. Uriel Castrillon, one of dozens of volunteer pastors who have been riding along with patrol officers for the past several months, walked to the edge of the crime scene.

The pair exchanged a few words, and Feagin placed a few crumpled bills and some coins into his hand. Castrillon took the money over to the shop and talked briefly with the owner.

He came back, told Feagin that the store wasn't selling anything amid the investigation, and handed her money back to her.

Even though he wasn't successful, she said, his gesture mattered.

"That was nice," she said, and walked off to take her daughter to the library.

"They appreciate that we say, 'Sorry, you can't cross here,' and explain why, lend a listening ear," Castrillon said.

Such is the power of the city's faith leaders at a time of high tension, particularly in West Baltimore, where Freddie Gray was arrested in April.

Gray, 25, died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. On the day he was buried, the city erupted in riots, arson and looting. Gov. Larry Hogan sent in the National Guard; officials declared a state of emergency and a curfew.

Gray's death drew attention to simmering tensions between police and the community — and has ratcheted them up. Police say officers responding to calls in the area are routinely surrounded by large, rowdy, cellphone-wielding crowds.

That was the case again Monday, several people in the neighborhood said.

Homicide detectives responded to the scene, and officers handcuffed a man and walked him up North Avenue around noon. Police confirmed that a person of interest in the shooting was taken into custody.

Brandi Myers, who manages a check-cashing store near the scene of the shooting, said she heard a burst of four shots. By the time police arrived, she said, a crowd was growing.

The officers told people to move away from the victim. One woman was putting pressure on one of the man's wounds.

"They were trying to tell her to move out the way, and people started going off," Myers said. "I thought that they were about to start fighting, because [the crowd] got real big over there."

Castrillon said the situation was tense when he first arrived.

"I did not intervene because it was too volatile," he said. "People were screaming and trying to get to the person who was injured."

Police did not respond to a request for comment on the crowd at the scene. Police Lt. Col. Melvin Russell said the program in which Castrillon works is aimed at bridging gaps between the community and the police.

About 35 pastors completed a chaplaincy program backed by the police department in March. They were trained in deescalation techniques and trauma response. Each now commits 20 hours a month to working in the community, often alongside police officers, Russell said, and "usually where their worship place is or where their relational equity is strongest."

Castrillon works out of Baltimore Ablaze on North Stricker Street in Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Monday's shooting occurred.

By noon, the scene was mostly calm. Castrillon continued to have conversations with neighborhood residents.

"We are trying to bridge the gap between police and the community. It helps sometimes to deescalate the situation," he said. "Sometimes you have people cussing out the police, and the police get hyper themselves. So we try to say, 'Hey, hey, let's work it out.'"

One older man bounced from foot to foot near the police line, saying he couldn't get home to go to the bathroom. Two teenagers walked up to Myers. She told them her shop was closed until the police tape came down, even though her doors were not behind the line.

"People get shot every day," one of the teens said. "You gotta close just because someone got shot?"

Myers shook her head.

"I try every day to not have my son think like that," she said.

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