Mayor's cousin fatally shot

A 20-year-old cousin of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was one of two men fatally shot in separate incidents Wednesday night in Baltimore, the latest victims of the city's relentless pace of gun violence.

Joseph Haskins, 20, was shot inside a house just blocks from his family's home in the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood of Forest Park.

Police said the shooting appeared to be the result of home invasion robbery, but detectives still were investigating. They said it was unclear whether Haskins was targeted.

"This is a tragedy for my entire family," the mayor said in a statement, asking for privacy. "Senseless gun violence affects the lives of too many people — here in Baltimore, and in cities and communities across the America."

Haskins, a graduate of Forest Park High School, was studying to become a chef, a spokeswoman for the family said.

He was the son of Debbie Haskins, a psychologist, and the Rev. Bruce Haskins, pastor of John Wesley United Methodist Church and the mayor's first cousin. Bruce Haskins offered a prayer at the mayor's inauguration in 2010.

Another family spokesman said Joseph Haskins was visiting friends when he was shot.

According to police, officers responded at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday to a home in the 4100 block of Ethland Ave., where they found Haskins suffering from gunshot wounds to the shoulder and back. They did not say how many others were present.

The shooting happened after one or more attackers entered the house and announced a robbery. Haskins was pronounced dead at 2:20 a.m. at Sinai Hospital.

The Rev. Stephen Tillett, a friend of the family acting as a spokesman, said Haskins had a 2-month-old daughter.

"We ask people to keep us in prayer," Tillett said. "This is a difficult time. The family has deep roots in the city of Baltimore. They've always been about serving and caring for people. Now a lot of care is coming back to them.

"Joseph was a wonderful young man," Tillett said. "He was a nice kid, fun-loving. This is just random and a cowardly home invasion that's inexcusable.

"We're taking it hard, but we're a family of strong faith," Tillett said. "We're deeply rooted in the church, but we'll make it through, one day at a time. We're leaning on the Lord."

The shooting comes as homicides are up by 13 percent this year in Baltimore compared to last year — 76 versus 67— according to Police Department data. Total gun crimes have increased by 12 percent, including a 29 percent spike in street robberies with guns. But overall violent crime has dropped by 4 percent, police statistics show.

Violence has touched the mayor's family before. In 2010, she described to The Baltimore Sun an incident eight years earlier in which she found her younger brother, Wendell Rawlings, suffering from cuts to his neck, back and stomach. He had been attacked by masked men with a sword outside her home in the Coldspring neighborhood when he stopped by to drop off a laptop.

"He still had his coat on," she said in the interview. "I grabbed a towel and said, 'You've got to press this against your neck.'" She pressed another towel to his back and told him to lean against the bathroom door to control the bleeding while she called 911.

It appeared he might not survive, she said. The family called Thomas Scalea, the physician-in-chief at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who rode in an ambulance to transport Rawlings from Sinai Hospital.

Rawlings-Blake, a former public defender who was vice president of the City Council when her brother was attacked, said it furthered her resolve to push for stricter penalties for violent criminals.

"We have to be vigilant to make sure that people who should not be walking among us are off the street," she said.

Haskins' killing came about two hours after a man was killed in a Reservoir Hill high-rise apartment building.

Detective Vernon Davis said that shooting, which was reported at about 9:22 p.m., stemmed from an argument that grew into a fight inside the stairwell of a building in the 2500 block of Eutaw Place. Detectives are investigating but have made no arrests, police said. The name of the victim was not released.

Capt. Stanley Brandford, commander of the homicide unit, said the cases did not appear related.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.

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