While many city residents say they are fearful of walking through their neighborhoods at night, residents of one neighborhood on the edge of Patterson Park don't venture outside in daylight.
For about an hour each afternoon, the community sits locked behind closed doors anxiously holding its breath. One store owner closes her shop and sits inside waiting for danger to pass. And a Catholic elementary school lets its students go home 15 minutes early so that they are home safely before trouble begins.
About 3 p.m., crowds of students from Hampstead Hill Middle School invade the neighborhood. Most days, neighbors say, the students are excitable and violent. They stop traffic on East Fayette Street, daring cars to hit them. They walk on or vandalize parked cars. They mug younger students for money or clothes or toys.
And last Friday, a few students horrified the neighborhood by beating 24-year-old Expedito "Pedro" Lugo with a baseball bat.
"It's not all of the students of course, because some of them are good kids," said Margaret Reimer, who cradled Mr. Lugo's bloody head in her lap until an ambulance arrived.
"But it seems that a lot of them are full of hatred, and they have no respect for anyone -- black, white, young or old," Mrs. Reimer said.
"My kid was jumped twice in that very same spot by white boys," said another woman, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years.
"And what was even more scary is that the boys were trying to steal his baseball bat, but he was lucky enough to get away."
Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke visited the middle school to speak with administrators and police officials about the residents' complaints. He said from now on, the middle school would dismiss its 1,200 students in three shifts. And he asked police to increase their patrols in the area during those dismissal times.
School officials say Hampstead Middle School does not have intense behavior problems with its students during school hours. But they say that the kids may be influenced after school by truant high school youths and dropouts.
Not much is known about the three youths who attacked Mr. Lugo at the northeastern edge of the park. Witnesses said the assailants took Mr. Lugo's baseball bat and tried to keep it. When he demanded that they return it, the youths beat him with it and cracked his skull.
Since the attack, Mr. Lugo, who lives in the 400 block of North Kenwood Avenue, has been in intensive care at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Family members said that if he survives, he may be severely brain damaged.
Three youths were arrested in the attack -- two 15-year-olds arrested Friday and a 13-year-old arrested yesterday. All were charged as juveniles with assault and released to their parents, infuriating Mr. Lugo's relatives and neighbors.
"If they are old enough to beat someone like that, then they are old enough to pay for the crime," said Maria Ramona Arias, Mr. Lugo's sister. "Obviously the parents can't control their kids."
Mrs. Arias, who lives on the same block as her brother, said her family keeps struggling to figure out why Mr. Lugo was so viciously brutalized.
"He never fought with anyone," she said. "You ask anyone in the neighborhood and they'll tell you how wonderful he was -- always smiling, always helpful."
But other residents were not so surprised by the attack. They had seen a pattern of increasing random violence over the last few years and some have decided to move.
"My husband says we're not staying here any longer," Mrs. Reimer said. "We have grandchildren living here, and I can't even take them to the park anymore. We'll probably move to the county."
The owner of Rose's Variety Store in the 2800 block of Fairmount Avenue says on several occasions, frightened children have run into her store for help from the threatening mobs.
"They ask me to call their parents to pick them up because they are afraid to walk home," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.