Death of 7-year-old Baltimore girl weeks after shooting revives anger about 'no snitching' ethos

The death Thursday of Taylor Hayes — the 7-year-old girl who had struggled to survive for two weeks after being shot — has once again elicited anger about Baltimore’s notorious “no-snitching” ethos.

Taylor’s homicide is the latest high-profile case in which detectives believe an individual has information on who killed a child — but won’t cooperate.

Taylor, a second-grader, was riding in the back seat of a Honda Accord in Southwest Baltimore on July 5 when a bullet struck her in the back. She died after “fighting for her life,” Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said.

The driver, Darnell Holmes, 33, was arrested July 6 and charged with six gun- and drug-related counts after police said they recovered a loaded gun, a digital scale and heroin from the glove box of her Accord. Police have said she is not cooperating with investigators.

Councilman Brandon Scott, who has been outspoken about violence in Baltimore, said a “code of silence” that protects criminals must end.

“There are people who know who shot this little girl,” Scott said. “A real person would step up and say, ‘I did it.’ A real person would step up and say, ‘This is who did it.’ ”

Taylor’s shooting death follows other child killings in previous years in which investigations were obstructed by witnesses or people who police said were withholding information.

In 2014, 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott was killed when a stray bullet struck her while she was standing on a porch in Waverly. Two other people were shot and survived. Immediately after the shooting, then-Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and other public officials repeatedly urged people to come forward with information.

"We know who the group is, but we don't have any people outside that says, ‘That's the person,’ ” Batts said in January 2015. "We know what happened. We have information from a confidential informant. We just need someone to come forward to say, 'That's the person.' "

It wasn’t until April of 2017 that investigators believe they identified McKenzie’s killer, an alleged neighborhood gang member arrested after federal authorities charged him with use of a firearm resulting in death.

Terrell Plummer was charged in federal court last spring for the toddler’s killing. His lawyers could not be reached for comment Thursday. The case is pending. All records in the case have been sealed by the court. The reason was not immediately clear.

In 2013, 1-year-old Carter Scott was shot to death in the back seat of a car after police say his father, Rashaw Scott, had been lured to a parking lot in Cherry Hill. Masked men opened fire on the vehicle, wounding Scott, who police said was the target, and killing Carter.

Rashaw Scott refused to appear in court to testify against the five men accused in his son’s killing until a judge issued a bench warrant. On the stand, he declined to corroborate an initial statement he had made to investigators alleging a friend had set him up.

“I don’t remember,” he told a prosecutor at trial when asked about a photo lineup with his signature on it. “That could be anybody’s. It could be yours. I’m not an analyst.”

All five men charged in the boy’s death were ultimately convicted.

Baltimore has developed a national reputation as a city with a strong street code that prohibits “snitching” or turning in those engaged in illegal activity. In the early 2000s, a popular video glorifying drug culture and discouraging witness cooperation titled “Stop Snitching” spread quickly throughout Baltimore neighborhoods. But the reasons some do not cooperate with police are complex. People may fear retaliation, distrust police to keep them safe, dislike police or desire revenge themselves — which can lead to a string of violence over months or years.

Baltimore police released a video on July 7 of a white Mercedes-Benz that was seen in the area of the shooting that fatally injured Taylor. Officials have urged the driver of the car to turn themselves in. Investigators have also been looking for Holmes’ boyfriend, whom they have not labeled a suspect. Holmes’ daughter also was riding in the back seat of the car at the time of the shooting, but was not injured. The bullet that struck Taylor entered the car through the trunk, police have said.

Investigators said they recovered shell casings from at least two guns at the scene, and that some of the casings matched the gun they found in Holmes’ glove box.

Holmes’ attorney, Staci L. Pipkin, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Those who knew Taylor recall a vibrant child who loved reading, dancing and singing. She enjoyed telling her Reading Partners volunteers about her family or weekend and would end every one-on-one reading session with a big hug.

“Taylor made waking up early to go read to her a joy for me,” said Carrie Wells, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who read to Taylor. “She would beg to play games like Go Fish, and it was hard to say no to her because of the way her eyes would light up when you would say yes.”

“I'm truly heartbroken,” Wells said, “and I hope people can surround her family with love and support during this unimaginable tragedy.”

Staff of Robert Coleman Elementary School, where Taylor attended, spent Thursday comforting one another, Baltimore City Public Schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said. On social media, at least one public event was being planned in honor of Taylor. “Neighborhood Night Out: A Pizza Party for Peace,” featuring fundraising, “food, fun, games, face painting, prayer,” was scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Edmondson and Loudon avenues.

Taylor’s death came on the same day Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s campaign emailed a statement to supporters touting crime declines. “Murder is down 20 percent over last year and shootings are down 13 percent,” the fundraising statement said. “Since I took office, reducing the high rate of crime has been a top priority. We are addressing the root causes of violence in our streets and the lack of equity in our neighborhoods.”

On Thursday, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett was staked out in front of a white tent not far from where Taylor was shot, to address some of those issues and neighborhood needs, as well. Underneath the tent, a collection of hiring guides and resource lists were neatly piled on a table. But upon learning of Taylor’s death, the councilman’s focus shifted to the girl’s family. He said he had texted Taylor’s mother Thursday morning and found out the young girl didn’t survive her injuries.

“If there’s a day we need to be here, it’s today,” Burnett said.

Taylor’s “mom is blown away by the outpour of support,” said Burnett.

As Burnett spoke, he flagged down pedestrians and encouraged them to stop by the tent, pick up a flier and grab a free granola bar.

“We know that violence is rooted in a lack of opportunity,” Burnett said.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young urged a suspect in Taylor’s shooting to surrender and provide police with information.

“They need to think about how there is a kid who won’t get the chance to finish school, who won’t get the chance to get married, who won’t get the chance to have her own kids,” he said. “This person took an innocent kid’s life. They need to come forward.”

The community holds answers the city needs in its fight against gun violence, Scott said, and it can end the immunity with which shooters seem to operate.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we need to be better as a city overall,” the councilman said. “Collectively as a city we have to think about this incident, and we have to track down the coward that did this to this child.”

Anyone with information about the shooting can text tips to 443-902-4824 or call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100.

Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman and Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

smeehan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahvmeehan

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