Death of son gives new life to woman's fight against drug violence

November 11, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

It was 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning and Olivia "Libby" Reid had just opened her eyes to the new day, a bright and sunny one in early October that she intended to greet by tuning in one of her favorite radio preachers, the Rev. Walter Thomas.

But before Ms. Reid could turn on her radio, gunshots rang through her West Baltimore neighborhood, modest cul-de-sacs of drug-riddled rental housing just across the county line from Woodlawn.

Gunshots, residents say, are as familiar in Forest Heights as birds singing in the trees, and almost immediately Libby Reid's phone was ringing with a call from a neighbor in her community association, a woman asking whether Ms. Reid had heard the gunfire.

She had, she replied, adding, "Let me call the police; it might be somebody's child."

"Somebody's child" turned out to be her own, 20-year-old Frederick Phillip Young, the only son of neighborhood drug fighter Libby Reid.

Children were soon at the front door of her house in the 4900 block of Carmine Avenue yelling, "Miss Libby! Miss Libby! It's Freddie that got shot!"

Ms. Reid ran down the street to the 1900 block of Beechwood Avenue. She found her son lying on his back, his eyes half-closed and his mouth moving soundlessly.

Before his mother's eyes, Freddie Young became murder victim No. 219 in Baltimore this year. (The toll is now closing in on 250.)

"I was whispering Jesus' name in his ear, and I said, 'Freddie, what happened?' but he didn't answer," Ms. Reid said the other day. "I put my ear to his chest, and it seemed to me he died right there."

And right there, under a utility pole at Beechwood and Clifton avenues, is where Libby Reid has left flowers and balloons since the Oct. 6 shooting. She has created a makeshift shrine to remind residents of the ceaseless toll of drug violence.

"It seemed like things just happened to Freddie, even though he was innocent," his mother said. "We knew something like this was going to happen in this community. We don't even sit in our family room because we're afraid of bullets coming through the patio door."

By all accounts, Freddie Young was a good young man. He learned how to cook through the Job Corps and worked in restaurants. He helped his mother distribute anti-drug literature and eluded the drug-dealing prevalent in his neighborhood.

"Freddie wasn't a criminal," said Detective Gene Constantine, who is trying to find the man who fired a half-dozen or so small-caliber bullets into Mr. Young's chest.

Detective Constantine's investigation has uncovered just about everything but a name to match a face.

Less than five minutes before Mr. Young was shot, Victor White, 19, was in a car with the man police believe committed the murder, offering to sell the man crack cocaine.

"At the time, I used to deal drugs," said Mr. White, who grew up with Mr. Young, went to the Job Corps with him and lives a few blocks away. "This guy drove by looking for drugs, and I was going to serve him some crack, about $50 worth. He was one of the white guys who come here to buy drugs, greaseballs and rednecks. He looked like one of those supremacists or fTC something, in camouflage, but we get businessmen in BMWs too, all types," Mr. White said.

The potential buyer, according to the seller, drove a mid-1980s white Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a burgundy interior and a small stuffed toy hanging from the rearview mirror. He refused Mr. White's drugs because there wasn't enough, and the dealer became suspicious.

"When he turned it down, I started to feel funny about it," Mr. White said. "Usually, all you could have is a crumb and they wouldn't turn it down."

Mr. White said he got out of the car and that the man drove away. The car cruised by again moments later, he said. Freddie Young was walking down the sidewalk from a friend's house, where he had spent the night. The driver pulled over to the curb at Beechwood and Clifton avenues and motioned Mr. Young and a few friends to the passenger window of the Monte Carlo.

"The driver didn't say anything," said Detective Constantine. "He just started firing and drove away."

And that is how, in the middle of a neighborhood being shot up every weekend, one young man lost his life at 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning.

Victor White has a theory: A short time before Mr. Young's death, he said, a white man resembling the suspect tried to get away without paying for drugs and was pulled from his car and beaten severely.

Perhaps, Mr. White said, a friend or relative of the beaten man came back for revenge.

Detective Constantine doesn't care what the motive was. He believes he is one call away from making an arrest.

"It's a fairly simple case," said the detective, who has circulated a composite drawing of the gunman and is looking for the Monte Carlo. "I have four eyewitnesses willing to identify someone from really close up, but I can't put a name to the face."

Libby Reid wants someone behind bars for the death of her son, but an arrest won't keep her from trying to make Forest Heights the neighborhood it was when she moved in. That was when her son was little.

And an arrest won't make her forget about tying flowers and balloons to the utility pole near the spot where he was killed, or stop her anti-drug rallies, such as the one planned for Forest Heights Nov. 23.

"We've been trying so hard, but I knew somebody was going to die," she said. "There's bullets flying all the time, but I didn't think it was going to be my child."

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