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Man shoots customer inside popular Station North bookstore and coffee shop

Baltimore Police investigating a shooting at Red Emma's, a coffee shop in the Station North neighborhood. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

A man shot and seriously wounded a customer inside a popular Station North coffee shop and community meeting space Friday in a brazen crime that highlighted the violent start to the year.

Baltimore police say a gunman, who was dressed in dark clothing and a hat and might have been wearing a mask, came to the door of Red Emma's at 30 W. North Ave. at 11:20 a.m. and called for the victim. The victim and the gunman got into a dispute, police said, and the gunman shot the customer in the upper body before fleeing north on Charles Street.

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"We believe the suspect and the victim had some sort of relationship with each other," said Lt. Jarron Jackson, a police spokesman.

On Friday afternoon, police said the victim was listed in grave condition at an area hospital. Homicide detectives were investigating because of the seriousness of the injuries.

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The shooting came a day after the mayor held a "call to action" meeting at City Hall with several community members to seek solutions to city violence. Three days into February, 37 people have been killed in Baltimore.

Alerts to students and faculty at the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art and the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus provided more details about the suspect based on preliminary information from police. The alerts said the suspect was black, wearing a black coat, black pants and gray New Balance sneakers. The schools said the victim was not affiliated with either campus.

A 67-year-old man, who declined to be identified for safety reasons, said he got off a bus on North Avenue and heard two men arguing as he walked near the coffee shop before the shooting. He said he heard loud shouting and someone mentioning that they had a knife. One of the men said he would return.

The witness continued to walk to an appointment nearby. When he was finished several minutes later, he said he saw crime tape surrounding the coffee shop.

Claudette Ferguson had just finished attending a nearby meeting and was headed to Red Emma's when a friend stopped her and told her about the shooting. She said she often frequents the coffee shop and believes the victim was a regular who often spent time there drinking coffee, reading and eating doughnuts.

On Friday, traffic on busy North Avenue crawled by the coffee shop as detectives went in and out and an officer walked a shaken-looking man to a squad car for an interview with homicide detectives at Baltimore police headquarters.

It was at least the second time in two months that detectives had visited Red Emma's. In early December, the shop was robbed of an undisclosed amount of cash at gunpoint.

Crime tape surrounded the shop's entrance for hours Friday as people tried to peer into its windows. One was painted with the words "Refugees and Immigrants Welcome."

The coffee shop, which is also a restaurant, bookstore and community space, is a frequent meeting place for civic groups and activists. It moved an event scheduled for Friday night — "Young, Angry, and Black with Valencia Clay & Guests" — to St. John's Baltimore, a church and community space at 2640 St. Paul St.

Red Emma's indicated that it would reopen Saturday.

"Thanks to everyone for the love & support," the coffee shop posted on its Facebook page Friday afternoon. "Our workers are physically safe, but we're anxiously awaiting more news about our community member who remains in critical condition. Though today's shooting is a reflection of the extreme moment in which we live, we want to assure everyone that this was a case of interpersonal violence, not a politically-motivated attack."

Red Emma's, a self-described "radical bookstore," has posted messages on its windows protesting President Donald Trump and his policies, and it has hosted meetings and events on police brutality and the death of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries sustained during police custody in April 2015.

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About an hour after the shooting, Baltimore police Sgt. Robert F. Cherry, the former president of the Baltimore police union and a former homicide detective, tweeted, "I'm sure it was captured on cell phones by the many patrons there who regularly capture police w/cell footage."

Cherry, who still acts as a spokesman for the union, deleted the tweet, but screenshots of it were shared on social media and denounced by many as insensitive. Cherry declined to comment Friday.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she believes Red Emma's fosters needed community discussions, and she said she hopes the shooting does not discourage people from visiting the shop.

She said she is planning more "call to action" crime prevention workshops similar to the event she held Thursday night at City Hall that drew about 90 people. She said she is working with lawmakers in Annapolis to tighten gun laws while seeking input from community members, advocacy groups and criminal justice experts for solutions to the city's frequent shootings.

"Violence in our city is out of control," Pugh said. "We have to get guns off our streets. I value the life of each and every citizen in the city, and I need the citizens to do the same."

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

Twitter.com/justingeorge

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