Mourners gather to say goodbye to slain 6-year-old

July 16, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

In a child's coffin, small enough and light enough to be carried by four men, they took 6-year-old Tiffany Renita Smith from the cool of the White Stone Baptist Church and into the bright light and heat of a summer day.

Outside, church choir members dressed in white waited, and as she passed, they sang softly, the melody of a spiritual rising and falling:

I'll fly away,

When I die,

Hallelujah, by and by,

I'll fly away.

Politicians and clergymen eulogized Tiffany Smith yesterday, struggling to bring some meaning to the death of the smiling girl in pigtails who was killed last Tuesday night when she walked into the cross-fire between two gunmen shooting it out on Rosedale Street in West Baltimore.

They said the community had to work to ensure that Tiffany's death was not in vain. And yet, their words could not explain away what had happened.

"That question, 'Why?', keeps coming up," said the Rev. Elmore E. Warren.

Answers were varied. Some saw Tiffany's death as a way to shock the neighborhood into action, to make people take their streets back from the drug dealers and gunmen, who bring the violence that touches the guilty and the innocent alike.

Someone called her a hero, saying that through her death, perhaps things would change in her West Baltimore neighborhood.

Since September, four other people have been killed and nine injured in serious shootings in the 12-block area surrounding Tiffany's home in the 3000 block of West North Avenue.

Already, some changes are evident in the neighborhood.

"The police, they've been there every hour on the hour," said Walter Winfield, whose daughter was playing with Tiffany moments before last Tuesday's shooting. "I hope it helps the block. I really hope so."

The Rev. Bruce L. Johnson, who presided over the funeral, told the 600 people in the church that they were "assembled here in the class room of life to learn another lesson." For Mr. Johnson, the lesson came from the Bible, the First Book of Samuel: ". . . there is but a step between me and death."

For young Tiffany, a fateful step last Tuesday evening took her from the vestibule of a neighbor's house in the 1800 block of Rosedale Street and into the path of a 9mm bullet. The police have since charged Guy Bernard Wilson, 20, with first-degree murder and a handgun violation. He is currently being held without bail, while the police continue their search for a second gunman.

Yesterday, before the speeches and eulogies, men, women and children passed slowly in front of the flower arrangements sent by friends, neighbors and a local store. One arrangement was made in the shape of a heart with "Tiffany" written across the middle. It was from her family.

The open casket sat in the middle of the arrangements, and all paused there to look at the little girl.

"I come to this moment as awkward as all of you, without any words but with a great sense of pain," Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, told the mourners. "I don't want to go to any more funerals. It hurts."

Throughout the ceremony, Tiffany's parents, Charlene Miller and Troy Smith, sat together in the front row, leaning against each other, their child's coffin barely an arm's length away. And when it was all over, they followed her out as the choir sang, and they followed her to Arbutus Memorial Park for a more private farewell.

Afterward, Kenneth Campbell, a distant cousin, stood near the church, struggling like many to find an answer or meaning for the child's death.

"It's tragic, but what can you do about it?" he said. "It really hurts. I look at it like this: she's only 6 years old, she doesn't know what's going on, but God called her home. Who knows why."

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