East Baltimore's child crime problems continued yesterday afternoon as a 10-year-old boy was arrested for allegedly holding a gun to the head of a 9-year-old to rob him of a multicolored, propeller-topped beanie.
The boy later said that he'd found the .22-caliber revolver the day before outside an abandoned house.
Police said yesterday's incident occurred about 3 p.m. in the 1600 block of Spring Street as the 9-year-old boy was walking home from school with his 11-year-old sister. They were approached by a boy who attends their school, and he demanded the beanie, they told police.
"Yo, gimme your hat," the boy said. When the 9-year-old refused, the other boy raised the revolver to his head and ordered him to hand over the beanie. The 9-year-old complied, then ran with his sister to the nearby home of an aunt, who called police.
Officer Edward G. Wojcik, responding to the call, drove with the children and their aunt to the 10-year-old's home in the 600 block of Aisquith Street. Police said an unloaded gun was recovered at the house.
The 10-year-old -- bare-chested, wearing a pair of baggy pink-and-black-striped shorts and standing just over 4 feet tall -- told officers at Eastern District headquarters that he had found the gun the previous day in the yard of an abandoned house on Holbrook Street, about a block from the playground where police last week arrested another 10-year-old on drug charges.
"I found it in an old abandoned house yard," said the boy, a fourth-grader at the Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School. "I go there a lot. Some boys said there was a gun there, but I didn't believe them, so I went.
"When I got there I saw it, but I didn't know if it was real or not."
The boy told police that he had given it to an 11-year-old for safekeeping overnight and retrieved it after school yesterday.
The boy said drug trafficking was common in his neighborhood, as was the sound of gunfire from shootouts among rival street dealers.
He admitted to using the gun to rob the 11-year-old of his beanie, according to police, but claimed he had not intended to harm him.
"It wasn't loaded," said the 10-year-old. "I wanted the hat because I liked it. I said, 'Can I hold your hat?' The boy ran."
Officer Wojcik, a nine-year department veteran, said he was surprised at the boy's age -- but not at having to arrest a pre-teen.
"There are 12- and 13-year-old boys standing out on the corners dealing drugs. I'm not surprised about them, because of the profits. But a 10-year-old with a gun makes you wonder," said the officer, who has patrolled the Eastern District since 1986.
"How hard is it to get a gun, when a 10-year-old can get it?" said Sgt. John Sieracki, who heads the Eastern District's drug enforcement unit. "He's so little that he doesn't know what could have happened."
In a side office in the Eastern District's squad room yesterday, Officer Wojcik and the boy talked about a tragedy that might have been: a police officer shooting a young child holding or raising a gun in the officer's direction.
"If you had turned on me and I had seen it was real and thought my life was in danger, I would have shot you," Officer Wojcik said.
"If I thought I was in imminent danger and I thought you were going to use deadly force, I'd have shot you. Even if you're only 10 years old."
"You would have shot me?" said the boy, his brow furrowed.
"Yeah," replied the officer, "I would have shot you. I would have felt real bad afterward, but [at least] I would have gone home [alive]."
The boy was charged as a juvenile with assault, robbery and a handgun violation and released into the custody of his mother.