Each night before he went to sleep, Rodney James Champy Jr., 7, hugged and kissed his mother and told her: "I love you."
"Not one night went by that he didn't," his mother, Jacqueline Cumberbatch, said between tears yesterday. "We were very close. He loved me and I loved him."
On Friday afternoon, Cumberbatch, 35, found her son dead in their sparsely furnished apartment in the 1500 block of Lester Morton Court in East Baltimore.
Rodney, a second-grader at Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School, had been strangled, stabbed once in the chest and sexually molested, police said.
It was too painful for Cumberbatch to recall how she found her son, but she did say she wanted the person who killed Ronnie, as he was called, to surrender to police. "So he won't hurt another child," she said.
No arrests have been made, but police are seeking a 29-year-old East Baltimore man for questioning, a homicide detective said.
A school system crisis team of psychologists and educators today talked to many students at Hayes Elementary to help ease any problems in coping with Rodney's death.
"They were just trying to tell them that it happens; it's life," said Pauline Bruce, the school principal.
The last time Cumberbatch saw her son was Friday morning when she instructed him, as she did daily, what to do before and after school. Cumberbatch was a single parent who worked for Maryland Hospital Laundry Inc. She and Rodney had recently moved into the apartment.
L The boy's father, Rodney Champy Sr., is in jail in New York.
Cumberbatch said her son was a good student who enjoyed helping people.
"He got 100s and B's and he did pretty well," she said. "He wanted to be a basketball player. Oh, God, he loved Michael Jordan."
She said she brought her son to Baltimore in November 1987 "to raise him in a nice place." He was born in Queens, N.Y.
Since the slaying, Cumberbatch has stayed with a friend on East Fayette Street. "I'm not going back to that house," she said.
Rodney will be eulogized at 7 p.m. tomorrow at New Pilgrim Baptist Church, 629 N. Washington St. Later, his body will be flown to Queens for a funeral there later this week, his mother said.
"Everybody and anybody can come and say goodbye to him" at New Pilgrim beginning at 4 p.m., Cumberbatch said. "The door is open and my heart will be open."
Because she cannot afford a funeral and burial, Cumberbatch is seeking donations from the public. Contributions can be mailed to the Rodney Champy Foundation, 1104 E. Fayette St., Baltimore 21202.
"I'm very thankful to everybody here in Baltimore that's helping me with my child," Cumberbatch said.
Last night, the Rev. Emmett C. Burns, minister of the First Baptist Church of the Rising Sun in Woodlawn, said he would give Cumberbatch a check for $200 that his church had donated.
"We're just outraged by the killing," Burns said. "We see this as just one more example of crime and violence getting out of hand in Baltimore City.
"People must get involved uninvited. . . . That's the only way we'll stop it. Police can't do it by themselves."