'I was touched by an angel': Beloved Baltimore barber survives shooting on violent Halloween

and Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The pop of gunfire surprised Troy Staton. He didn’t feel the bullets punch the back of his neck.

Street violence had never before intruded into his barbershop and art gallery, an urban refuge in Southwest Baltimore.

“It was upsetting because this is sacred ground,” Staton said a day later, with his neck bandaged, sitting outside the New Beginnings Unisex Barbershop.

The well-known barber, art curator and neighborhood organizer was among seven people shot — four of them, including a 13-year-old boy, fatally — on a violent Halloween in Baltimore.

“Am I upset? I’m upset with the system. A lot more can be done,” the 50-year-old barber said Thursday. “I can’t hold anger. I was hit three times in the back of the neck and walked away. God let me know my work isn’t done.”

The Halloween shootings brought October to a bloody close as the second most violent month of 2018. Thirty-four people were killed in the city in October, second only to September, when 35 were slain. The pace of October’s violence exceeded one killing a day.

Across Baltimore, families continue to grapple with the gun violence, families such as the parents of 13-year-old Montrell Mouzon.

The boy was found fatally shot Wednesday night in South Baltimore’s Lakeland neighborhood. On Thursday, the boy’s father said they had been handing out Halloween candy near their home in Seton Hill hours before his son was killed.

A neighbor said he heard about seven rapid shots around 9:30 p.m. as he was putting his twin daughters to bed. They had just returned from trick-or-treating in Linthicum.

He looked outside and didn’t see anything. An hour later, crime scene technicians were pacing the intersection, he said.

“Man, it’s so sad,” said the man, David, who declined to give his last name out of concern for his safety. “Thirteen years old — for what? It’s a life you can never get back.”

Police spokesman Matt Jablow said the teen was found with eight pieces of crack cocaine and the keys to a stolen car in his pocket.

“We are investigating whether drug dealing played a role in his death,” Jablow said.

Thursday morning, as Britny Neal walked her 5-year-old son, Gregory Harris, to kindergarten at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School past discarded candy wrappers on the sidewalk, she said she was more accustomed to teen pranks — eggings, toilet paper and the like — than shootings on Halloween.

“A lot of times you [are] afraid to come out on Halloween,” she said, but added: “I would never think that would happen.”

On Thursday afternoon, Staton returned to New Beginnings and settled into a chair outside. Drivers passed by, honking, waving, blowing kisses. It was a warm welcome back to the man who runs the barbershop like a nonprofit, throwing free art shows and block parties and hosting health clinics.

The gunman had rushed inside the shop and shot and wounded a customer, police said. Staton was cutting hair and was shot three times in the back of his neck. The bullets grazed him, he said. One shot went in and out. He was released from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center within hours.

The shooting happened so fast, Staton said. “It was a blur.”

Police continue to search for the shooter or shooters.

“The doctor’s exact words was I was touched by an angel,” he said. “God let me know, ‘I’m not done with you.’ ”

To Stanton, it was a message to press forward with his work to bring art and fellowship to Southwest Baltimore. He had opened the Hollins Market barbershop a decade ago and filled it with books and art, like a museum

Inside, there’s a spiral staircase, decorative birdcage, books on Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh and guides to African-American art. Light pours in the huge bay windows. Regulars come in for haircuts and the art.

The walls have held of the work of the Sondheim Prize-winning artist Renee Stout. Staton has exhibited life-size photographs of old Baltimore. He’s invited neighbors in to meditate and hear spoken-word readings. The company behind the Red Bull energy drink named him a champion for social change. Baltimore businessman David Warnock’s foundation celebrated him as a social innovator.

It’s more than a barbershop, Staton would say.

He spoke of empowering neighborhood children through art. He told of one boy who went on a field trip to the museum, telling the curator he already had seen art at the barbershop.

Staton said he will return to work. And he’s still planning to exhibit the artwork of Excel Academy students in his shop later this month.

“He didn’t deserve this,” said Shadawn Boyd, one of his longtime friends in the neighborhood.

She walked up to him outside the barbershop Thursday and wrapped her arms around his neck. For a moment, her hug covered his bandages.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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