In the quiet of the early morning, six U.S. marshals gather in a light rain outside a rowhouse on North Broadway in East $H Baltimore.
A 18-year-old man wanted for aggravated assault with a gun may live there. His relatives live in the house, and the marshals' sources said he had been seen there hours earlier.
Sonny Ferguson, a marshal for 20 years, knocks on the door with a flashlight. Two other marshals go to the rear of the house. It's 5:10 a.m.
A minute passes. No answer. Ferguson knocks again. A woman in a nightshirt, apparently disoriented, looks out of a second-floor window.
"U.S. Marshals, ma'am. Would you come down and open the door please," Ferguson says.
"What's this for?"
"Just come to the door, please."
The woman says she'll be right down. The marshals hear rustling noises inside, but after after five minutes no one appears.
Annoyed, Ferguson knocks again, only harder. The woman comes to window again and promises to come open the door right away.
Three minutes later there's still no answer.
"He's in there," Ferguson says to another marshal. "Or least he was in there. They probably got him out by this time. I'm sure of that."
Ferguson's suspicions are confirmed two minutes later when the woman opens the door. The marshals, armed with an arrest warrant, ask the woman if the suspect is there. She says no and marshals ask if they can search the house.
Four people in various stages of dress and a small dog sit in a barren living room. Four other people -- including several small children -- are scattered through the house.
In a rear bedroom, a small boy stares wide-eyed at Ferguson and then at an open window that leads to a fire escape to the roof. Raindrops fall on the window sill.
"Any bets that he went out the window to the roof?" Ferguson says. "What do you think took them so long to open the door? They got him out of here. He went from roof to roof. If he lives in there, he'll be gone by this afternoon."
The early morning effort is part of Operation Sunrise, a project of the U.S. Marshals Service that targets fugitives wanted for violent crimes, narcotics violations or handgun offenses.
Marshals said the project, a 10-week hunt focusing on state and federal criminals in four East Coast metropolitan areas, including Baltimore, has netted 1,495 fugitives nationally and 258 in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Scott A. Sewell, U.S. marshal for Maryland, said that the 258 fugitives arrested had 1,295 combined prior arrests for felony violations, including 47 for homicide and 41 for rape.
Among those picked up in the Baltimore-Washington area were 23 people charged with or convicted of murder, Sewell said. They included Michael Antonio Lucas, a convicted murderer who escaped from a Texas prison and was on the marshal's 15 most-wanted list.
During the operation, marshals seized $1.8 million in cash and property, plus guns, drugs and other contraband valued at $538,150.
"These violent offenders and drug criminals helped pay for their own capture," Sewell said. "The cash and property seized in the five [Operation Sunrise] areas will go a long way toward offsetting the extraordinary expenses of the operation."
Sewell said the project cost more than $3.3 million. Locally, the operation spent about $2,000 per arrest.
U.S. marshals say the number of fugitives has grown in recent years along with increases in drug activity and other crimes.
James Krause, head of the local effort, said the targets have to meet all or part of three criteria: "We're looking for the guys with backgrounds of drugs, violence and guns," he said. "The guys we're looking for have to have two of the three."
The North Broadway house is the marshals' second futile stop this day. The first stop, also in East Baltimore on Oliver Street, turned up a family living in a house with no electricity, but no fugitive.
Ferguson says arrests are more likely in bad weather, when people stay home. Combined with the early hour, the tactic should lead to some arrests, he says. But so far, nothing.
The woman at the Broadway house says the man they are looking for is her son, but she hasn't seen him lately.
Ferguson tells her in no uncertain terms that her son is wanted for a handgun violation and assault and that if she knows his whereabouts, she had best tell the marshals.
"All I know is he was here when I went to bed an hour and a half ago. Idon't know what happens when I close my eyes and me and my old man go to bed," she says. "Don't think I was trying to hide him because he was here when I went to bed."
While searching the house, marshals find a loaded eight-shot, .22-caliber handgun under the fugitive's mattress. The woman is not surprised.
"He pulled it out on me before. You'd be doing me a favor by putting him in jail," she tells Ferguson. He asks her if she wants him to remove it from her house.
"Please take it."
As the marshals leave, Ferguson says he is sure the marshals just missed their man.
"I know the guy was in there. It was a stall tactic. We should have taken the door down," Ferguson says. That means they should have used a battering ram.
Again Ferguson's suspicions are correct. The next day the woman calls Ferguson and tells him that her son had been in the house and fled while marshals were waiting to enter.
"It's what I thought," Ferguson says. "But he knows we'll get him. He knows that."