Researcher dies in apparent Northeast Baltimore robbery

Peter Marvit never missed rehearsal with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and this week he showed up wearing one of his trademark ties — short, fat, and brightly colored. After the three-hour practice concluded with "Carol of the Angels," director Tom Hall told everyone "to drive safe and be well."

But as Marvit returned to his Northeast Baltimore home, the 51-year-old scientist and father was gunned down just steps from his front door overlooking Herring Run Park — a seemingly random attack that police said Tuesday may have been a robbery.

Shocked friends and colleagues described Marvit as witty and good-natured. A psychology Ph.D. who conducted research on hearing and worked for a contractor with the National Institutes of Health, he also spent considerable energy working to bring music education to impoverished city children.

"There was no one that I could think of who tried more diligently and with greater effort to expand [musical] opportunities for city schools students," said Kelly Powers, director of the Baltimore Talent Education Center. "The senselessness — you hear that all the time, but that's exactly what it is."

Officers responded around 10:30 p.m. Monday to a 911 call in the 2800 block of Chesterfield Ave., near Belair Road, and found Marvit suffering from head and chest wounds. A neighbor, Catharine Victorson, said she heard six gunshots, a pause, and heard a woman screaming.

A woman driving through had seen the shooting and was sitting in her car, apparently causing initial responders to believe there had been a car accident. Several officers arrived on the scene quickly, though Victorson said no one rendered aid as a woman who lived in a nearby home held Marvit's head and waited for an ambulance.

Police are investigating Marvit's shooting as a robbery, but cautioned that it was only a presumption by detectives given a lack of other possible motives.

"This is atypical for this type of community, which is another reason why we're exploring a robbery angle," said Anthony Guglielmi, the chief police spokesman. "These precious hours immediately after the incident are crucial to investigators, and anyone with information who may have seen something, we're asking you to call detectives."

Marvit's killing was one of three shootings being investigated by police Tuesday.

A 26-year-old woman — found dead in a vacant lot at Old Town Mall after police received an anonymous phone call — was determined to have been shot, and police believe her body was dumped there. A 32-year-old man was wounded in a shooting in the Charles North neighborhood Monday night at North Charles and East 21st streets.

Anyone with information on the shootings was asked to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100.

Marvit had apparently moved in recent months from a longtime home in Mount Washington to the home in Belair-Edison. Residents say the neighborhood has its problems, but is not generally considered dangerous.

Marvit was well-educated and had diverse interests; a Facebook page under his name lists a doctorate in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and degrees in English, music and computer science from Oberlin College.

He was working as a clinical trials analyst and did quality assurance work at ICF International, on a contract with the National Institutes of Health, according to the company and an NIH spokeswoman.

Karen A. Robinson, a spokeswoman with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said Marvit completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the school from 2002 to 2005, then worked as a research associate in the school's laboratories from November 2005 to December 2006. He also spent time at the College Park campus as a postdoctoral fellow, she said.

His work there included different types of research on hearing. At the University of Maryland, he helped graduate students with collecting data in experiments aimed at determining what sounds birds can hear, and what sounds they can differentiate.

A former colleague at College Park, Ed Smith, who is a research engineer with the Center for Comparative and Evolutionary Biology of Hearing, recalled Marvit as a "jovial man, a clever researcher, a helpful colleague, and a good father."

"The world would be a better place with more Peter Marvits, but the only one is gone, and he will be missed," Smith said.

Marvit's family members could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Hall, music director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, said Marvit was a longtime participant. He was outgoing enough that Hall picked him to participate in a dance routine for the group's performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"He was a terrific scientist and a great researcher, but music was something that was extremely important to him," said Hall, the co-host of WYPR's "Maryland Morning." "He was not a dilettante — he was a serious musician, and an excellent singer."

Hall said Marvit often wore "strange bow ties, almost clownish." "He didn't do it in an outrageous way. I just think it was a metaphor for how bright and positive he was about everything. You could see it in his eyes," Hall said.

Marvit's daughter, Nariko Marvit-Suyemoto, is a violinist, and he knew how to play multiple instruments, including violin, piano and guitar. He became the board president for the Baltimore Talent Education Center, which once had 160 students enrolled from 35 different schools but lost funding from the city school system in 2009.

"We were on the board together at a time when the organization was troubled. We were losing students, and we had a lot of meetings where we really had to think about what we wanted for the future of BTEC," said Leslie Seid Margolis, an attorney.

In a pitch to school leaders at a 2009 meeting, Marvit introduced young musicians who performed selections. "The benefits of music education are well-known. From improved self-esteem and test scores, to transferable skills used in academic subjects. The test of our success is our students," he said, noting that recent graduates had gone on to Yale, Peabody and the Naval Academy.

Powers, the president of BTEC, said Marvit argued for a new economic model that gave students access to musical instruction. Within two years, a nonprofit took over control and the program went from one location to 11, offering classes in violin, guitar, piano, cello and bass.

"For a man as talented and with as many options as Peter had, that he never left this city and never left the task of opening more arts possibilities for city school students is one of our more remarkable stories," Powers said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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