Most nights, Cynthia O'Neal would return to her Gilmor Street home in West Baltimore and find her son Ricky Jones waiting up for her, watching television on the couch.
But on this night of March 21, O'Neal found her son lying in the basement, shot, unable to speak and blood bubbling from his mouth. She had heard gunshots as she was walking up to the house, and struggled to unlock the door. Her other son called an ambulance, and O'Neal said she ran out into the street to call for help, but no one came to her aid. She went back to the basement and attempted to care for her son.
"I thought, please God, please don't let him leave me," she said.
Jones, 40, a father of three and grandfather, was the 53rd of 81 people killed in Baltimore this year. Ten people were shot the first week of April, and five more, including a 65-year-old woman, were killed this past weekend.
But in a city where violence occurs almost daily, O'Neal said she never thought it would occur at her home.
"You don't expect these things to happen."
For 15 frustrating minutes, O'Neal said, she waited for help to come. Paramedics arrived before police officers, but she said they refused to enter the home to treat her son before officers had cleared it.
Western District officers responded at 11:56 p.m., the department said.
A city fire spokeswoman, Blair Skinner, said that paramedics wait for officers to secure a crime scene before entering — and that police usually arrive first.
"If there's a shooting we would never go into the house without the permission of the police," she said. "It would put our personnel at risk."
O'Neal said that once officers arrived, the medics went inside to care for her son, who has been shot in the head. The medics pronounced him dead, police said.
Police have not made any arrests in Jones' death. A police spokesman, Jeremy Silbert, said Tuesday that detectives do not have a motive in the shooting.
Jones did not appear to have a criminal record, according to online records.
Investigators told O'Neal the suspect or suspects appeared to be looking for something in the home, but no valuables were taken from it, she said.
Jones' mother said he worked a mix of handyman jobs and occasionally at a friend's clothing store. But after struggling to find steady work, he moved into her Gilmor Street rowhome last year.
His funeral at March Funeral Homes on Wabash Avenue in West Baltimore was packed with mourners, O'Neal said, many of whom were in disbelief over his death.
"They could not believe it was him," she said. "He did not have an enemy."
Her son was known as "Geedie" — a nickname playing off "greedy" that was given to him as a child by his aunt because he loved food. She said many also called him "doughboy," which he didn't mind. He had an easygoing personality, a good sense of humor and a large laugh.
The day after he was buried, Easter Sunday, would normally have been an occasion for a big family meal around her dining room table. Instead, O'Neal spent most of the day in bed. She said she planned to make a big pot of lima beans for her son, which he requested. He would have eaten the whole pot, she said with a smile.
For her, the painful memory continues to replay in the weeks since his death.
"You keep thinking you could've done better," O'Neal said.
She draws comfort from knowing she was with him as he drew his last breaths, he was not alone.
"I just want people to know that he was a godsend," she said. "The time I had with him was always precious."
Anyone with information is asked to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7Lockup, or text tips to 443-902-4824.