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21-year-old former Dunbar football player killed in Northeast Baltimore

Police are investigating a shooting that occurred Thursday evening in Northeast Baltimore.

A former Dunbar football standout, who came home from his California college because he was homesick, was shot to death Thursday night near his home in Northeast Baltimore.

JaQuan Holt was shot in the 4000 block of Belwood Ave., near his home in the Waltherson neighborhood, police said. He died at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Holt, 21, is the 297th homicide victim in Baltimore this year, and the 47th in the Northeast District.

Holt was a running back at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Highlight videos on YouTube show him slicing and spinning between tacklers.

He graduated in 2013 and went to California for college, but soon returned to Baltimore, family members said Friday morning outside their home on Bella Vista Avenue.

Holt had earned his commercial driver's license and was looking for work, they said. His girlfriend was expecting his first child.

"She's not doing too good," said Natasha Brown, Holt's sister.

Brown said Holt was looking forward to being a father. She described him as "fun-loving, happy and caring."

"We just miss him so much," Brown said.

Ernest Brown, Holt's brother, said he was the life of the party.

Lawrence Smith, Holt's coach at Dunbar and a school police officer, learned of his death during a junior varsity game Thursday night.

"I was shocked," he said.

Smith said he met Holt when he was a 9-year-old youth football player, and knew his family. Smith said he never knew Holt to be involved in trouble. Holt did not have a criminal record in Maryland, according to online court records.

"He was very respectful," Smith said. "He was just a great, hard-nosed kid."

Smith said Holt is not the first student he's lost to the city's violence.

"It's happening too often," Smith said. "We're losing too many kids too early."

Smith said he warns players every day to be careful, and tries to encourage kids to leave the city.

"I just tell them they got to make the right decision," he said. "This city is a bad place."

In 2012, Holt's senior year, his 6-yard scoring run helped Dunbar roll over New Town High School, 39-0, at M&T Bank Stadium to win the Class 1A state championship.

Smith said Holt was an honor student and had a 3.5 grade-point average in high school.

Sabrina Fleet said she was Holt's aunt.

"It's a lot to take in. All of these senseless deaths," she said. "It's like life doesn't matter anymore. They are just killing our babies. Unnecessary murders for no reason."

Outside the Formstone-clad rowhouse where Holt was shot, black, star-shaped balloons were tied to a lamppost, and a small stuffed animal was placed at the base. Yellow police tape lay in some bushes nearby.

A woman who lived nearby said she heard "fussing" and then about five loud "pops."

"When they started the fussing, something told me to go on upstairs, and that's what I did," the 78-year-old said. She did not want to be identified because she said she was concerned for her safety.

Investigators do not know of a motive for Holt's shooting, Detective Jeremy Silbert said.

He said several people were outside shortly before the shooting, and police were looking for witnesses.

"We're asking for the community's help to find out what happened and bring justice," Silbert said.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, who represents the district, was at the scene talking with investigators Thursday night.

"I'm sick of it," he said of the city's violence.

Leroy, a 29-year-old truck driver who lives in the block, said it has become "a McDonald's drive-through for drugs," patronized mainly by people from Baltimore County. He declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal from the dealers who he said intimidate neighbors by sitting on their steps.

"It didn't shock me," he said. "I heard them arguing."

Priscilla, 46, who moved into her home around the corner four months ago, said she has yet to become comfortable in the neighborhood. She also declined to give her last name.

Keeping drug addicts from getting high in the vacant home next door has become a full-time job, she said, and someone tried to break into her home — while she was inside — on her birthday in September.

She said she has asked police to increase patrols in the area.

"I knew it was going to happen," Priscilla said. "Someone was going to rob them or kill them. The drug activity, of course, brings other people into the neighborhood, and then you've got danger."

As she turned to leave the shooting scene, she cast a wary eye on a young neighborhood boy taking pictures with his cellphone.

"Make sure you get inside before the police leave," she told him.

Police did not have information about suspects. They asked anyone with information to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100, or use the Metro Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at 1-866-7LOCKUP.

Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector, Colin Campbell and Sean Welsh contributed to this article.

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