Police probe gang attack on East Baltimore girl, 14. After-school melee injures student council president.

October 31, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

The fight started as a petty quarrel between two teen-age girls, perhaps from bad feelings over a school election. It ended in a neighborhood melee, with an estimated 25 youths and adults piled on the 14-year-old student council president, kicking and beating her.

"They're going to kill my baby," Emily Bennett recalls thinking when she saw her daughter, Keysha, buried beneath the pile of writhing bodies. She says adults stood on the fringes of the crowd, brandishing knives and threatening to hurt anyone who touched their children.

They call it a "banking" in the Bennetts' East Baltimore neighborhood. And Keysha, an eighth-grader at Lombard Middle School, says she had a feeling she might one day end up on the wrong side of one.

"I just thought it could happen to me," Keysha said Tuesday, the day after the attack. Lying on the sofa in her family's rowhouse, she was bruised and needed crutches to walk, but wanted to go back to school as soon as possible.

Neither Keysha, her mother, nor any of her friends know the origin of "banking," which they also call jumping. But they say it is part of daily life in their neighborhood, although seldom as extreme as Keysha's case.

The same term was used in connection with last week's beating of a 17-year-old Venable High School student, robbed of his Los Angeles Raiders jacket and earphones. Police arrested an 18-year-old man and two younger teen-agers in connection with the attack on Reginald "Reggie" Starks and are still looking for other suspects.

No charges have been filed yet in the attack on Keysha Bennett, but her mother says she has talked with police and plans to file charges against some of the youths and their parents.

Eastern District police say the incident remains under investigation and officers assigned to the case have been given the names of at least three juveniles reportedly involved. No arrests have been made, police say.

Bennett also has talked with Lombard's principal, Loretta Breese, about the students who may have been involved. In a telephone interview, Breese confirmed there had been a fight, but pointed out that it began and ended off school property.

According to Keysha and her friend, Tylisha Lloyd, the two were walking north on Caroline Street about 3:30 p.m. when a classmate approached Keysha and slapped her. Keysha, who is student council president and eighth-grade class president, says she thinks the girl had been looking for an excuse to fight her since her election.

It started off as a fair fight, Tylisha says. "But, if you want my opinion, the others jumped in because Keysha was winning."

Two more girls, then some boys, joined in. A crowd gathered, then quickly dissipated when a police car came up and one of the officers called out, the girls say. After the patrol car drove on, the crowd returned.

Keysha says some women watching the fight from their stoops screamed out to the girls: "You better run, they have guns." Keysha and Tylisha began running down Eager Street toward Bond Street, but the crowd caught up with them about two blocks from the Bennetts' rowhouse.

In the 1100 block of N. Dallas St., Keysha says, she was knocked to the ground once and got up, only to be knocked back down to her hands and knees. Other youths then began jumping on her.

A man who lives in the area says he saw 30 to 50 people chasing the girls. He describes a mob of young children, teen-agers and adults, some carrying steak knives and sticks.

"It was ages 8 on up," says the man, who asks that his name not be used. "I would have been running for my life if I were in the middle of that."

Meanwhile, Anthony Bradford, a 14-year-old friend, ran to get Keysha's mother from the corner grocery store.

"All I could see was her on the ground," Bennett says. She managed to pull her daughter away and help her home. When Keysha lost consciousness, her 17-year-old brother, Bobby, carried her the rest of the way.

She was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for bruises and a head injury, then released Monday night. Her mother, worried that Keysha may be attacked again, says she will ask the school district to transfer her.

"I can't pick her up every day. I get off at 3, the same time she gets out of school," says Bennett, who works as a nurse's aide. "I think she's safe at school, but what can I do when she's walking home? It's terrible when you have to worry about your children all the time."

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