Diane Pittman sat yesterday at the dining room table where just 13 hours earlier her 4-year-old grandson was shot in the head -- hit by a bullet fired from outside her row house in East Baltimore. She slowly shook her head.
"Doesn't seem like you're safe inside or outside. It doesn't matter," she said softly. "You can put them up on the roof; maybe they'd be safe there."
Her grandson, Quantae Maurice Johnson, was listed in critical but stable condition at the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Quantae's mother, Carmelita Allen, 19, kept a vigil at his bedside.
The youngster was hit at 11:15 p.m. Saturday, as he stood in the dining room of his grandmother's house in the 600 block of North Castle Street, by an errant bullet that police believed was intended for a teen-age boy next door.
The shooting was the latest in a series of tragic incidents involving Baltimore children this summer, including two homicides.
Tiffany Smith, 6, was struck in the head by a stray bullet July 8 during a shootout between two men as she played on the sidewalk in front of a friend's house in West Baltimore.
Shanika Day, 3, was killed Aug. 17 when two gunmen opened fire on a crowded Walbrook Junction street corner. A man holding Shanika in his arms was shot five times in the back and killed. Two of the bullets passed through his body and killed the child.
Danielle Booth, 3, of Parkville was shot and killed Aug. 18 while visitng a great-aunt in Atlanta. And Lakiya S. Bradford, 9, was shot in the chest and seriously wounded July 23 as she walked with her 11-year-old sister toward a church snowball stand in East Baltimore.
Nine children under the age of 10 in Baltimore have been the victims of homicides this year.
The gunfire late Saturday was apparently the result of a dispute between two youths over a girl that started at a grocery store in the afternoon and escalated as the evening wore on, said Agent Arlene Jenkins, a city police spokeswoman.
Pokice said a group of youths was walking along North Castle Street when one of them fired several shots, at least one of them into the home of a teen-ager involved in the dispute.
The police have a description of a suspect but reported no arrest last night.
Tonetta Outland, 18, a cousin of the injured boy who said she witnessed the events leading up to the shooting, said the youths came from a neighboring street. They approached the house with the intention of fighting the 17-year-old youth who lives next door, she said.
At one point, both of the youth's parents confronted the group -- first his mother, who was assaulted by the youths with a baseball bat, and then his father, Ms. Outland said. After that, the young man's father warned neighbors on the block to bring their children inside, she said.
"He hollered, 'Get the children off the street, there's going to be some shooting,' " Ms. Outland said.
Quantae -- called "Pookie" by his family -- had been playing at the opposite end of the block with other children from the neighborhood when a family member called for him to come home. A short time later, the shooting started, Ms. Outland said.
"I was sitting right here and he was standing here, talking to me," said Ms. Pittman. "We heard the gunshots and I saw blood running down his face."
She said Quantae was still standing. "I asked 'Are you all right?' And he said, 'Yes,' " she said. Then, he collapsed to the floor.
A neighbor who had heard the gunshot as she drove by the house gave Ms. Pittman and her son a ride to the hospital, located two blocks away. Ms. Pittman held Quantae in her lap, his head wrapped in a towel. She said he was conscious and talking during the trip.
What was especially galling about the shooting was that she brought her grandchildren inside to keep them safe, Ms. Pittman said. "They would have been safer outside," playing at the end of the block away from the gunfire, she said.
Some Castle Street residents said that they did not hear the warning of impending gunfire and that their children were still outside when the shooting started.
Sam Bull said when he heard the shooting he ran outside and pulled his child and two others into his house. "It's fortunate because normally the block is full of kids. And last night there were just a few."
Neighbors expressed sorrow yesterday that the boy, a gregarious presence on the block, was so seriously injured.
"He ran up and down the sidewalk on those little teeny legs. And he was just so cute," said Dale Pardue. "He asks for cookies and you just want to give him cookies."
Ms. Pardue also expressed fears for the safety of her own three children. "I wanted to move before," she said. "But this is like the icing on the cake."