Stray bullets again strike bystanders in city

Councilman: "We just can't turn a blind eye to a 9-year-old being shot or a 71-year-old being shot."

The shooting of a 9-year-old girl outside her home in Waverly on Sunday afternoon was just the latest in recent weeks in which an innocent bystander was caught by stray gunfire, prompting exasperated residents and city officials to ask whether people have become numb to the violence.

The girl's aunt said Monday that they were getting ready to go shopping when a man suddenly emerged from a nearby corner and opened fire on a group of young men strolling down Old York Road. The bullet struck the girl in the thigh, breaking her femur, but she stayed calm as neighbors rushed her and her family to the hospital, her aunt said.

Two days earlier, 71-year-old James Gaylord was killed when someone opened fire in a crowded shopping center in Northwest Baltimore in the middle of the afternoon, striking five people in all. Those incidents came a month after a 10-year-old boy was hit by a stray bullet in Walbrook and a 93-year-old woman was grazed in the head as she sat on her steps in Southwest Baltimore.

Discussing the weekend incidents, Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith said Gaylord was "simply at the wrong place at the wrong time." Then he corrected himself: "He was in the right place at the right time. These bad guys were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Smith said such incidents remain rare. Still, he said the community — even the criminal element — should be outraged when children and seniors are hurt.

"What this speaks to more than anything is the recklessness of these bad guys who, unfortunately, continue to hide under the cover of anonymity," Smith said. "Even among people involved in illegal activity, there's supposed to be rules."

City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice president of the council's public safety committee, said there needs to be more of an outcry.

"The silence is loud," Scott said. "No one is going to save the city except for those of us who live in the city. We just can't turn a blind eye to a 9-year-old being shot or a 71-year-old being shot."

Gun violence is up nearly 80 percent in Baltimore compared to the same period last year, and the city for the first time since the 1990s is on a pace to record 300 killings. Violence spiked after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, with the city experiencing record homicide totals in the months of May and July.

While many of the crimes have gone unsolved, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Monday night that the source of the problem is clear.

"It's violent repeat offenders with access to guns and no regard for their lives or the lives of people in their communities," she said before attending a public safety forum in the Western District.

In Waverly, the 9-year-old girl's shooting was particularly upsetting to many because it occurred in the same stretch of Old York Road where 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott was killed by a stray bullet in August 2014 under similar circumstances: She was on her porch when a man opened fire on a group of people. He missed them but hit her.

Waverly, which was home to the old Memorial Stadium and is just east of the Johns Hopkins University, is still regarded by many as a desirable middle-class neighborhood. The old stadium site now features a YMCA and a playground, and the neighborhood's elementary school and library have benefited from recent multimillion-dollar upgrades.

Despite assurances from then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts that Elliott's killing would be solved, no arrests have been made more than a year later. The city named a stretch of 36th Street "McKenzie Elliott Way." A a woman who answered the door Monday at the home of McKenzie's mother said the family had moved.

"It's just sad that we just lost one child in the area, and then turn around, my niece, 9 years old, gets shot not even a block away," said the most recent victim's aunt, who did not want to be identified out of fear.

"I just hope that both of them get solved," she said. "I really do. Because that mother didn't deserve to go through that, and now my sister and her baby's father don't need to go through what they going through."

Down the block, Bryant McRae, 46, and David Owens, 48, talked about the impact of the violence. Together with another neighbor, a 59-year-old who would only give his first name, Michael, they represent the conflicting emotions in a neighborhood some fear is at a crossroads.

Michael has lived in the neighborhood for eight years but said he would leave at the first opportunity. Owens grew up there and is determined to stay. And McRae is preparing to move to Waverly from West Baltimore, hopeful for a better environment for his young child.

"I don't know if I jumped out the frying pan and into the fire," McRae said. "I think I'm moving one place to a better place, and now I'm hearing what I'm hearing."

Owens was adamant that residents who care about the neighborhood have to stay and step up. "Maybe it will start getting contagious — your zeal for a better life. You leave, and it's going to make no difference. That's abandoning the people. Man, that's wicked."

McRae added, "There's nowhere to run, to be honest. ... You'll be running for the rest of your life. Everybody's running and not really facing the problems that we have."

A crumpled flier promoting a neighborhood meeting lay in a nearby front yard, depicting an image of a gun and smiling children. It read: "Don't think our kids should have to run from bullets? Come together with your neighbors to make a change."

Alicia Lucksted, chair of the Waverly Improvement Association's safety committee, organized the meeting, held last Wednesday night. It was in response to a fatal shooting nearby the week before.

The latest shooting is cause for another gathering, Lucksted said.

"It's a great neighborhood. It's filled with great people, and in a great location," she said. "We've had a spate of violent activity. It seems mainly to be people coming from outside the neighborhood."

She described residents as scared and angry.

"Children are running away from bullets," Lucksted said. "There's no right for people to do this — to come in and shoot our children and our neighbors. This is a block from my house. It's just not acceptable."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he's concerned that more people aren't speaking out.

"I'm trying to figure out why there is no outrage," Young said. "People say that black lives matter. These are not white people who are killing these innocent black people or shooting these kids. People have become numb to what's going on."

City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said community members in Woodmere have scheduled a meeting with Northwestern District police about Friday afternoon's shooting at the Reisterstown Road shopping center. Gaylord was there after going with two friends to the Motor Vehicle Administration office in the complex.

A 54-year-old man, a 41-year-old woman, a 33-year-old man, and a 26-year-old man also were struck by bullets but survived. Police have not said whether any of them were the intended target. What's clear, police said, is that Gaylord was not.

Spector said police have interviewed 30 witnesses in connection with the shooting but have yet to make arrests.

"There are people there that see and know these people," Spector said. "They are scared to death."

Neighbors have been complaining about open-air drug trafficking in the area since school started, especially worried about young people who have to walk by dealers on their way to school.

"It doesn't go away; it just moves," Spector said of the drugs and violence. "It's got to be where people say, 'Enough is enough,' and put their shoulder to the wheel and help us."

jfenton@baltsun.com

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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