A 3-year-old girl and a young man shielding her in his arms were killed late Saturday as at least two gunmen opened fire at a crowded West Baltimore street corner.
The girl's mother and another man were wounded in the attack, which occurred about 11 p.m. in front of a row of businesses near the corner of Clifton Avenue and Garrison Boulevard in Walbrook Junction, city police said.
Homicide detectives said Steve Allen Cochran, 20, apparently was trying to protect young Shanika Day when he was shot five times in the back -- with two shots passing through his body and killing the child.
Police were uncertain of the reason for the attack in front of a laundromat, cleaning business and beauty salon on Garrison Boulevard.
Shanika's mother, Mona Lisa McClain, 19, of the 1900 block of Chelsea Road, was listed in stable condition yesterday at Sinai Hospital with a leg wound.
Police and witnesses said she flagged a motorist on Garrison who took the mother and daughter to a nearby firehouse.
The child died in the operating room at Johns Hopkins Hospital just before 1 a.m. yesterday.
Also hit by the gunfire was Bryant Jones, 18, of the 2300 block of Allendale Road, who was released after treatment at Sinai for a wound to his arm.
Nine bullet casings were found at the shooting scene, but detectives were uncertain whether pistols or an automatic weapon such as a submachine gun had been used.
A report by the state medical examiner's office disproved accounts from some people that Mr. Cochran had attempted to use the child as a shield, said Detective Richard L. James of the homicide unit. He attributed the accounts to a scene in the recent movie, "New Jack City."
The wounds suffered by the victims instead supported accounts by other witnesses who said Mr. Cochran grabbed the child to protect her.
"We believe he was sitting on the steps, he saw the gunmen and picked up the baby, and started to run," Detective James said at the crime scene yesterday.
Mr. Cochran, who lived in the 500 block of Laurens Street, was an acquaintance of the mother, according to police.
At Ms. McClain's home on Chelsea Road, a tree-lined street of oldbrown-shingle, wooden porch-front houses, a distraught woman identifying herself only as Shanika's great-grandmother said that she knew nothing about the shooting and was too upset to talk.
A female relative walked into the living room, where a baby's plastic beads lay on the rug, to say she knew both of the male victims and that there had been a robbery attempt on them recently that resulted in some gunplay. She also declined to give her name.
Police said that Mr. Cochran had prior arrests for selling heroin and cocaine, but did not know whether he had been convicted. Mr. Jones told the police he is currently on probation on a drug charge.
But police could not say whether the attack was in any way drug-related.
After the shooting, police said, the gunmen ran toward the 3400 block of Elgin Avenue, where an old Toyota Corolla, rust or burgundy in color with "Toyota" lettered at the top of the windshield, was seen speeding away.
The same car may have been driven past the crowd on the street just before the shooting, and stopped to let the gunmen out, said a police spokeswoman, Agent Arlene K. Jenkins. There were conflicting reports as to whether any words preceded the gunfire, she said.
At the laundromat, two sisters who did not want to be named said that they had talked with Mr. Cochran minutes before he died -- when he warned them, as he had previously, about taking a short-cut through a dangerous alley beside their apartment house on Garrison. He was planning to go to the supermarket, they said.
"If we had talked five more minutes or if he had walked us to the building, Steve might be alive today," said the younger sister, looking outthe door at the chalk outline of his body on the sidewalk, just a dozen steps from the alley where they had talked. "He had three kids of his own. He was real good with all the children."
After taking leave of the victim and entering their building, they heard a "pop-pop-pop," they said, and ran out to find him dead and "everybody crying." The 24- and 27-year-old sisters said that they had moved into the Windsor Court Apartments just three weeks ago -- and may move out as a result of the shooting.
In any case, they were making their seven children stay indoors yesterday.
"A lot of people are really scared to say anything," one of the women said, and her sister added, "Or they just don't want to get involved."
Many people in the area were quick to say they didn't know anything.
But 13-year-old Nathaniel Cottman, who lives around the corner, said that he saw the two gunmen running toward Gwynns Falls Parkway. Pointing to the corner at Clifton Avenue, he said drug traffickers congregate there all the time.
And because of that, said Warren Evans, 28, of the 2100 block of Garrison Blvd., a city police car usually is parked across from the corner in the Walbrook Junction Shopping Center on Saturday nights.
"It's just that this time, they weren't there," he said, shaking his head.
Mr. Evans pointed to a second-floor apartment window immediately above the shooting scene, where he said he was resting Saturday night when "I heard what sounded like an Uzi, and about 30 seconds later I heard everybody screaming, 'Steve,' and 'Somebody got shot.'
"It was Saturday night -- everybody was out," he said of the crowd of adults and children on the sidewalk.