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Architecture student at Baltimore Design School, 19, mourned after fatal shooting

According to those who knew him, Victorious Swift was living up to his colorful name — in the fast lane on a path to success — when it all got ripped away.

The energetic 19-year-old was a member of the founding class at the Baltimore Design School and a talented architecture student set to graduate in June. He also was a boxer and mixed martial arts fighter, a tutor and student organizer with the Baltimore Algebra Project, and an aspiring singer and rapper.

The youngest of seven siblings, Swift was "like a sponge" with new information, said his mother, Victory Swift, who recalled him reciting Langston Hughes poems as a child. "If he wasn't writing music, collecting beats and singing, he was rapping his heart out," she said.

Early Sunday morning, Swift was shot dead in a barrage of bullets. His mother says he was on his way home from a recording studio. Police said they know of no motive in his killing.

According to police, officers responded about 3:10 a.m. to the 2300 block of Tioga Parkway near Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore and found Swift suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital soon after.

Swift's family, friends, teachers and fellow activists said they are trying, without success, to reconcile the news of the shooting with the young man they knew — someone they never expected to see on Baltimore's growing list of homicide victims.

"He didn't hang out in the streets, he hung out in the music studio," said his mother. "He didn't hang out on the corners, he hung out with his family."

"We do what we do to help guide these kids and put them in the right direction, but even when they're in the right direction, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Marvin McDowell, Swift's boxing coach and founder of UMAR Boxing in Druid Heights, which is now mourning its second boxer killed in as many weeks.

"I'm still in shock," said Twan Jordan, the Algebra Project's co-executive director and Swift's close friend and mentor.

The facts surrounding Swift's death remain unclear, but Victory Swift believes her son was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. She said he was walking home, just about 10 minutes away, when he likely took a shortcut behind the 7-Eleven near the corner of Liberty Heights Avenue and Tioga Parkway. It was there that she believes he was attacked.

He did not have a criminal record, and his mother said a detective told her police do not suspect any drug or gang connections on his part.

News of his death quickly spread.

Meghann Harris, a graphic design teacher who taught Swift several courses over the years, said he was the type of kid who made a school better.

Tall and lanky, extremely energetic and always handing out hugs, Swift was also smart, Harris said. He was good at math problems and designing model buildings to scale — often, he would complete his classwork quickly, then go around helping other students, she said.

He was "so hyper," Harris said, "one of those kids who will think 50 different ideas and you'll think he's not listening to you. But he's heard everything you've said."

During the unrest of 2015, when students at the school were trying to stay focused on their coursework while also processing both the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody and the rioting that followed, Swift "was everywhere," Harris said.

"He was tutoring, he was protesting, he was out helping other people," she said. "I kind of think of him as the core of his graduating class. He was often the person who would comfort everyone else when something bad would happen."

"You would never think that he could die. He was like invincible. It was like he was always going to be there," said Alanis Brown, 17, a fellow member of the Algebra Project and former Baltimore Design School schoolmate who thought of Swift like a brother. "You just fall in love with him, and you just instantly feel just happy and protected by him. He just had that type of presence. He drew people to him."

Mayor Catherine Pugh helped found the Baltimore Design School, which teaches fashion, architecture and design, and is the public middle-high school's board chair emeritus. She said Swift was "a promising young man" who she'd met at the school and who "had a lot to offer" the world.

"It's a great loss to Baltimore, and certainly to his family," she said of his death. "We need the violence to stop. We need this time to stop where people think it's OK to pull out a gun and shoot people, like this is a television show or a game, like people get to get up and start the day again."

Jordan said "no matter who you were or what kind of person you were, [Swift] could find a way to connect with you, whether it was arts or athletics or academics or whatever."

As a tutor, Swift made the material relatable, Jordan said. And among Baltimore's different circles of youth activists, Swift was a bridge builder.

"He was definitely multi-faceted, and that definitely helped him to be able to make those connections," Jordan said. "Whether it was academically or socially, within the school, within his neighborhood, he was just the glue, the magnet, to hold everybody together."

Swift was the second UMAR boxer to be killed in recent weeks. Montell "Telly" Pridgett, 24, was gunned down March 15. McDowell, who coached both of them, said they were "genuinely good guys" — two young men whose deaths should be driving people in Baltimore to search for solutions to the violence.

"Within two weeks I'm burying two of my boxers. I am hurt," McDowell said. "But I got to keep getting this message out: We've got to save our boys. We've got to save them."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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