A Baltimore woman walked onto a Cherry Hill playground late Thursday afternoon, struck up a conversation with a boy she didn’t know, then opened fire on the boy and his mother, police say.
Nichole George, 31, of the 900 block of Seagull Ave., is charged with several counts of attempted first-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault and handgun violations, according to police.
“George started talking with the 11-year-old boy and a short time later she allegedly pulled out a gun and shot both victims,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said. “Detectives are still working on the ‘why.’”
The gunshots rang out while dozens of other children played nearby.
“Right now, the motive is still unknown,” Harrison said Friday morning.
George is being held at Baltimore Central Booking. The charges were not yet listed in court records Friday morning.
Friday afternoon, about two dozen Cherry Hill residents and community advocates, including members of the anti-violence program Safe Streets, gathered next to the playground to pray for the boy and his mother.
“We have to pray for our young scholar,” Cherry Hill Elementary Principal Tracey Garrett said.
She said the victim is a fifth-grade student at the school, which was closed Friday for conferences. She described the boy as a quiet student who does not cause trouble. Garrett said she and other staff members tried to visit him at the hospital earlier in the day but could not because he was still in critical condition.
“We just hope he pulls through,” Garrett said.
The group, including some young children from the neighborhood, held hands in prayer.
“We’re not having this anymore in Cherry Hill,” said Ebony Harvin, assistant pastor of the New Solid Rock Pentecostal Church.
Harvin said she lost her son last year to violence. To the handful of young kids in the crowd, she asked them to repeat after her: “I’m not going to die young.”
“At the end of the day, our kids are put through so much trauma,” she said.
Police said the attack took place just before 6 p.m. near Round Road and Seagull Avenue. The boy was shot in his hand and head. His mother, 34, was shot in the upper body. Both were taken to an area hospital for treatment.
George returned to the scene and was promptly arrested, police say.
The boy was listed in critical but stable condition and his mother was listed in stable condition Friday morning, police said.
Dante Simms, who lives close to the playground, said he was returning home when he heard someone with the child call for help. He ran over to find the wounded boy.
“I was trying to keep him alert,” while paramedics arrived, Simms recalled later.
“I even have his blood on my hands,” he said.
Simms and his wife have six children — all under age 8 — and he said the incident made him fear for their safety.
Several people living in the area around the playground said the shooting was shocking for the relatively quiet neighborhood. On Friday, children largely avoided the playground where the shooting occurred, said neighbor Shaheed Waller.
“A playground — that’s the last place you’d think something’s going to happen,” said Waller, adding that he will not be taking his 5-year-old to the playground anytime soon.
The incident is just the latest incident of Baltimore children becoming victims of gun violence. In November, 5-year-old Amy Hayes was seriously injured in the crossfire of a shooting after heading from her West Baltimore home to a corner store to buy a juice. By a stunning and tragic coincidence, Amy is the younger half-sister of Taylor Hayes, a 7-year-old girl who was fatally shot in July while riding in the back seat of a car in Southwest Baltimore.
Major Monique Brown, commander of the Southern District, who responded to the shooting and attended Friday’s vigil, said violence against children is especially difficult. As a mother and grandmother, she said it’s hard not to internalize the incident.
“You go home, you don’t sleep. I think ‘could I have done more?’ ”
But the community came forward and helped make an arrest, which Brown said is a positive step to improving overall crime in the city. Police need the community’s help to solve crimes, she said.
“It speaks to the level of support,” she said.
Those with information are asked to call detectives at 410-396-2221 or leave an anonymous tip with Metro Crime Stoppers by calling 1-866-7lockup.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Tim Prudente and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.