Spate of violence continues in Baltimore, with September ending as deadliest month since May 2017

The future held such promise for Johnathon Greenidge. The 6-foot-7 offensive lineman made all-conference at Southern Arkansas University. He told his family the Baltimore Ravens showed interest. He told them he would buy them a house.

But his NFL dreams faded, and the dimpled 26-year-old was gunned down around the corner from his family home Thursday in North Baltimore. He became one of 37 killed in a September that closed as the city’s deadliest month in more than a year.

Nearly half the killings — 17 — happened last week. And the bloodshed continued unabated into October. By 10:30 a.m. Monday, police found a man shot to death in Southwest Baltimore. Three hours later, another body.

September’s violence smashed growing hopes for a peaceful Baltimore. Last year closed with 342 people killed in Baltimore — the highest homicide rate among any major U.S. city. But the pace of the killing has slowed.

Some 233 people have been killed in Baltimore this year. That’s 33 fewer people than by the end of September 2017. Police and city leaders had expressed guarded optimism before the deadly September. Sixty-four people were also wounded by gunfire last month.

At a crime walk Monday evening in Riverside — a typically peaceful neighborhood that was shaken last week by the shooting death of 25-year-old Timothy Moriconi — Mayor Catherine Pugh defended her crime strategy. Aside from September and April, she said, crime in the city has trended downward.

“We have to stick to it,” she said later, adding that she believed many recent killings had been retaliatory, gang-related incidents. Pugh said a permanent police commissioner should be named by month’s end — a deadline city officials had announced previously.

Earlier Monday, police cars dotted Greenmount Avenue in blocks notorious for crime. At police headquarters, interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle announced increased patrols across the city and the cancellation of leave for officers over the next three days.

“We’ve scrubbed this building for personnel who can be on the street,” he said.

Some of the killings this past month have been random, Tuggle said. Others resulted from robberies, he said, or were tied to disputes. At least two killings were domestic in nature.

“You can’t control human behavior at the end of the day,” he said. “If somebody is intent on pulling the trigger against somebody else, it’s probably going to happen. But the deployments that we are doing are meant to sort of intercede or disrupt what might be going on.”

Tuggle also lamented that the department did not have enough officers. “We simply don’t have enough police. That’s the bottom line.”

On a hill in Riverside Park, someone laid out pieces of paper bearing the names of everyone killed this year in Baltimore. On Monday evening, Buddy Kaiser, 64, stuck wooden skewers in them to keep them from blowing in the wind.

Nearby, city leaders stood on a picnic table to reassure residents.

“This kind of showing shows how much you all care,” Pugh told a large crowd gathered beneath a gazebo before the crime walk.

To resident Jill Franklin, the mayor was paying “lip service” to public safety while delivering few specifics on crime or on the investigation of Moriconi’s death.

“I want to believe her,” Franklin said. I’m surprised she’s here. I’m glad she’s here. But the city’s so out of control that unless she has a magic wand, I don’t see what’s going to change.”

On Monday, police also named five men killed over the weekend. The youngest was 17-year-old Beaontray Ellis, shot to death Friday near McCulloh Homes in West Baltimore. The oldest was 46-year-old Donald Lee Jackson, killed Sunday in the Saint Joseph’s neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore.

Their families and others across Baltimore continue through the rites of grief: meeting pastors, planning funerals, tearfully picking obituary photos. Families such as Johnathon Greenidge’s.

They called him “Big Guy” or “John-John” when he was growing up in his grandparents’ house in North Baltimore. Raised by his grandparents and mother, Jacqueline Cousins, a longtime nurse at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Greenidge attended St. Francis of Assisi School and Calvert Hall College High School.

The cheerful, towering teenager was a familiar sight around the neighborhood.

“Everyone knew him,” his cousin, Shana Williams, said. “He was as soft as a teddy bear.”

He starred on the Cardinals’ football team and graduated in 2009. Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis recalled him as an affable young man. Davis said he was shocked to learn of the killing.

Greenidge played on the offensive line at Southern Arkansas. Back home, his family watched all the games on TV.

“It’s a terrible thing. A young man who has his whole future in front of him. A young man who is trying to figure out life. It’s just awful,” Southern Arkansas coach Bill Keopple said.

Greenidge married in Arkansas and had a son. He graduated in the spring of 2016 with a degree in criminal justice, the coach said.

Keopple recalled their last conversation. Greenidge thanked him for the chance to play and said he appreciated his time on the team. Greenidge had his young son with him. The coach said Greenidge was considering law school and professional football.

At 280 pounds, he had the size for the NFL. He soon converted his grandparents’ basement into a weight room to train.

“Going to a smaller school, he was overlooked,” his cousin said. “He just wanted to prove himself.”

Meanwhile, he worked nights at McCormick and Co. in Hunt Valley. His wife and son remained in Arkansas.

Tate Mustin, 27, of Nashville, said he met Greenidge in college where they played football together and they remained best friends.

“We’ve been close ever since,” he said.

Most nights they would FaceTime each other, and Mustin came to Baltimore several times a year to visit Greenidge.

On Wednesday night, Mustin said, they talked about a new personal training business he was launching, which Greenidge helped him develop years ago.

Thursday morning around 10:50 a.m., police were called to Chateau Avenue in Greenidge’s neighborhood. They found him shot in the driver’s seat of his car, the engine still running. He was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Police said they have no motive.

“It’s just a tragic loss. He’s someone we consider a part of family here,” said Keopple.

Greenidge had no criminal record. Maybe he was mistaken for someone else, his family wonders. Maybe it was jealousy?

“We have zero answers right now,” said Williams, his cousin.

She and his mother visited funeral homes Monday afternoon. Vincent Cousins sat on the porch of the family’s home, remembering the pride he felt watching No. 74, his grandson, play college football on TV.

“It hurts,” Cousins said. “I miss him dearly.”

In silence, he looked out at the curb where his grandson parked when coming home.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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