The city block had been good to George and Jane Evans. A place for summer cookouts, Christmas carols and watching retirement days glide by.
The killing has darkened their bit of East Baltimore and home for 45 years.
“The block took my baby,” Jane said in her husband’s hospital room.
George lay awake beside her, a bullet lodged in his neck. His left foot was bandaged, right knee shattered, femur fractured. One bullet had ripped through his buttocks. Gunmen had shot up his legs.
“Eight times,” George said. “I don’t know who did the shooting or where they came from.”
Police say a 17-year-old boy was among the killers. They charged Eric Gilyard with murdering the Evanses’ grandson. Gilyard remains held without bail. Online court records did not list his attorney.
Police say they caught the teen running away with an emptied 9 mm pistol.
The retirees ask themselves: How will they face their block again?
“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe there,” George said.
The attack worsened what has been a bloody April in Baltimore. Someone executed a mother and daughter in their home. Stray gunfire killed a 65-year-old woman on her porch. City police counted 17 killings in March, but 31 this month.
In the Evanses’ Broadway East neighborhood, the couple have been the keepers of a block squeezed by crime and blight. The plastic pansies in their front window brighten the street, but vacant homes rot within sight. They never had a rat before last summer. George sweeps the sidewalk, but the trash blows down. The old neighbors called him the “block captain.”
“Everybody knows George,” neighbor Tieshia Redfern-Moore said.
Born in Edgemere and raised in East Baltimore, he moved in when young men settled arguments with their fists, not bullets, he says. There was street violence, but also a code: Grandparents were off-limits.
“These kids coming around, they ain’t got no remorse. They ain’t got no respect. They just take a life as a joke,” he said in his bed at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
A burly man, he retired after 39 years as a roofer. His forearms show it.
George also made his living as a painter, carpenter and electrician. He worked in laundries, at Montebello State Hospital, and making plastic straws at the old Maryland Cup company.
“Through the grace of God,” he said, “I’ve been making it on bits and pieces.”
Each summer, he grills hot dogs and hamburgers for the block. Everyone is welcome.
“If you can feed one,” Jane said, “you can feed many.”
Redfern-Moore moved next door last year. Soon, George was watching over her 9-year-old son as the boy walked to school. She offered to pay George for a ride to the grocery store.
“He looked at me like, ‘Girl, don’t you ever say that,’” she said, laughing.
The ride was free.
Neighbor Adam Custis would call George for help with a flat tire.
“He wouldn’t take no money,” Custis said.
In the Evanses’ brick rowhouse, its doors and windows secured by grates, the couple raised two children and sent them to college. They raised nieces and nephews when family members fell on hard times.
“We always kept kids,” Jane said. “There’s never been a dull moment in our house.”
They also raised their first grandchild, Walter Baynes.
A young father, Baynes had a troubled record of drugs and robbery. He earned a GED in prison, then returned to his grandparents’ home. He was working as a roofer with his uncle.
The 30-year-old had moved into a new apartment with his pregnant girlfriend one month ago.
Still, he would visit his grandparents, offer to run their errands and help himself to their refrigerator. For three straight Sundays, George brought his grandson to the Church of Dynamic Deliverance in Southeast Baltimore. George was teaching him religion and car repairs.
The streets, he would tell his grandson, only lead to prison or the cemetery.
On April 19, Baynes returned for another visit. When he went to leave, he found his tires slashed, his grandparents said.
George said he went outside to help. As Baynes made phone calls to buy new tires, George sat outside his home on the sturdy wooden bench he built decades ago. He greeted neighbors for years from the bench.
Down the block, Baltimore Police Officer Joseph Rodgers had responded to a home where neighbors were arguing.
Baynes was leaning against the car on the block. George was looking down the street. The gunmen came from the alley. Then shots rang out.
Baynes was shot and fell. The barrage struck George, too. He crumpled and the bench toppled over.
“I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get up,” George said. “Walt fell right in front of me.”
Inside, Jane tried to go help.
“My husband was hollerin’, ‘Get back! Get back! They shot me!’” she said. “I was just trying to get to them.”
The officer down the block heard the gunfire and ran up. Police say Rodgers chased Gilyard and arrested him. Detectives also found .40 caliber shell casings on the sidewalk, but no one else has been arrested.
Police spokesman Chief T.J. Smith said investigators found a handgun tucked in Baynes’ waistband. He didn’t fire back.
His grandparents say they never saw the gun.
“I don’t know whether Walt did something to them,” Jane said. “I just don’t know.”
George hopes to be released to a rehab center. He can’t walk yet, and months of therapy await him.
Meanwhile, their nephew Larry Weaver wants to raise money and help them move somewhere safe.
Where would the couple go? George said.
“The block was nice. Everybody around there was peaceful. It’s just this new generation that’s coming up. They don’t realize they’re hurting families,” he said, wiping tears with his hospital gown.
Last year a neighbor told George she was worried. Redfern-Moore feared the encroaching street violence. She remembers his words were once reassuring.
“He was like, ‘You mind your business and you’ll be all right.’”