A nurse popped her head inside the door of a small waiting room in the Pediatric Care Unit at University of Maryland Medical Center, found Diane White and said, "Your little boy wants you."
With this, Mrs. White rose to her tired feet and walked a long, clean hall to the room where her 6-foot-tall, 15-year-old son, her "little boy," lay in a bed with a bullet in his back and the fear that he might have suffered a permanent, disabling injury.
"The doctors don't know for sure yet," Mrs. White said. "He had some movement in his foot. But he's in a lot of pain. . . . He cries from the pain. He says, 'Why me? Why me?' "
Here's another in the long, crazy run of kids hit with bullets from guns on the streets of Baltimore. Here's one we missed. The story of the shooting of Garth "Little Gardy" White, a handsome kid with many friends -- "a fabulous personality," according to his mentor -- did not make the newspapers. It happened late Tuesday afternoon near Edmondson High School. The same day, police and the press, having already reported the shootings of several other innocents, were occupied with two new shootings -- one involving a 16-year-old student at Harbor City Learning Center, the other a gun battle among four imbeciles near Steuart Hill Elementary. After a while, it's difficult to get them all on the record.
From every indication, Gardy White was, like many other kids in this town this year, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Though he lives on North Castle Street in East Baltimore with his mother, a 7-Eleven clerk, and his father, a construction worker, Gardy takes the bus to Edmondson High School on the west side. He chose Edmondson this year because he wanted the vocational training offered there.
On Tuesday, about 3 p.m., he and two friends -- Mrs. White knows them as Maurice and Tyrone -- were with a group of boys waiting to take the No. 20 bus home. They were standing in the 400 block of Swann Ave., behind the school.
It's not clear what happened next, but it is known that a fight broke out.
"From what we've been told, Gardy's group encountered another group of three boys and two men in their 20s," said Sandy Boucher, who sat in the small waiting room with Gardy's mother. Boucher wore a handsome, dark business suit. She talked about Gardy White as if he were a little brother. There was a reason for that.
Sandy Boucher, a 30-something sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, befriended Gardy when he was 9 years old and came to her door offering to do odd jobs. At the time, Boucher and her husband, Rick, now an assistant city state's attorney, lived in gentrified Washington Hill. Gardy lived in dilapidated Douglass Homes, a few blocks away. The Bouchers came to love this kid. They gave him a few bucks to wash their car or run to the grocery store. They fed him. They invited him to family gatherings. Sandy Boucher's father, a physician, felt grandfatherly toward Gardy.
Now, six years later, with Gardy down the hall in a hospital bed, unable to move his long legs, Sandy Boucher continued the story.
"So they were all standing at the bus stop, and an argument began. Gardy wasn't involved. There was this other boy, a small boy named Joseph, and the kids from the other group got in his face, Joseph's face. There was some punching. . . . Then someone came out of a home nearby -- the police said this was an area watched for drugs -- and someone saw this man from the house reach for a gun. And all the kids started running: Gardy and Maurice, Tyrone and the other boy, Joseph. Gardy stopped to pick up a book bag. . . . It slowed him down."
This matches with the police report, which describes another Baltimore street shooting with no apparent motive. A young man in a sweat shirt and acid-washed blue jeans emerged from an apartment at 6408 Manordene Road, which intersects with Swann, chased the boys down an alley and fired two shots. One of them struck Gardy in the lower back.
The bullet was still there yesterday. According to the doctor who examined Gardy, no surgery is planned. The slug might have lodged at the end of his spinal column. The doctor is yet to determine the extent of permanent damage. But Gardy has no feeling below his waist. He moved one of his feet a bit yesterday.
"He wants me to take him out of the high school, out of Edmondson," Gardy's mother said.
"He knew he needed to develop some skills," said Boucher, "and that's why he went there."
"He's a strong kid," added Mary Preis. She's a member of the House of Delegates from Harford County. She's known Gardy for three years. They came together through Project RAISE, a mentorship program aimed at getting kids to finish high school.
"He has a fabulous personality," Preis said. "A handsome kid, very strong, very athletic, a good basketball player."
A couple of years ago, when he attended Lombard Middle School and Preis was his mentor, Gardy failed two courses. This required him to take two five-week summer courses at Loyola High School. And that required him to meet a 7:30 bus every morning. "He never missed a day," Preis said. "It showed that he can produce, that he's motivated."
Both women who came into Gardy's life -- Sandy Boucher and Mary Preis -- mentioned that this big, strong kid had a soft, playful center. He was popular with classmates because he was frequently the class clown.
"He's a good kid," Preis said. "He'll go out and play with younger kids."
"He's not a fighter," Boucher said. "He's 15 years old and still talks about going out to play. He uses that expression: 'Going out to play.' "
She seemed astonished that, in a city of guns, a boy from the streets could still think about playing in them.