'Most of the people here do care' Students greet man beaten near school

December 04, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

He was introduced simply as Pedro Lugo. At Hampstead Hill Middle School, everyone knows who Pedro Lugo is.

Last May, three youngsters took Mr. Lugo's baseball bat from him as he walked across Patterson Park. They beat him with it and split his skull.

One of those three was from Hampstead Hill Middle School. Witnesses said a crowd of other students watched. Expedito "Pedro" Lugo nearly died.

Yesterday, a friend wheeled Mr. Lugo onto the scarred wooden stage at Hampstead Hill and the auditorium filled with applause from students. Many had written Mr. Lugo during his long recovery, asking him to visit the school.

"Our special guest is Pedro Lugo," announced student body president Joanna Thomas, 11, triggering another round of applause. "Welcome, welcome, welcome."

The pale young man in the gray suit and white hightop sneakers smiled and raised his hand in acknowledgment. His thin frame curved into his wheelchair. His left hand fidgeted upon an immobile right hand. His mother, Leocadia Lugo, sat next to him wearing a big pink parka and a smile.

One by one, students came up to the microphone to read their tributes to Mr. Lugo as he listened.

"Dear Pedro, my name is Terrance Sloan. I hope you are feeling much better. . . ."

"Dear Pedro, My name is Bobby Lovett. I attend Hampstead Hill Middle School. Most of the kids are writing because they care, like me. . . ."

"Dear Pedro, My name is Sharice Barnes. I'm so sorry about what happened. . . ."

"Dear Pedro, My name is James Reed. You may not remember me, but I remember seeing you on the basketball court a lot. Every now and then, you would let us use your basketball to play. . . ."

"Dear Pedro, I am Sandra Michelle Harris, and I have been feeling very badly about what happened to you, but I hope you try to forget about it and go on with your life. . . ."

Six-and-a-half months ago, it was not clear that Pedro Lugo would have a life. He was in a coma for weeks, his brain damaged and the right side of his body partly paralyzed.

While doctors worked to save him, city and school officials struggled to quell outrage from the community surrounding the school, a few blocks from Patterson Park.

Residents felt what happened to Pedro Lugo was an extreme example of the type of random violence the school has brought to their neighborhood for years. With a predominantly black school in a predominantly white neighborhood, an undercurrent of racial tension prevailed.

A new principal, extra security and police patrols were rushed into place. There were neighborhood meetings. The school's 1,200 students felt that they were all tarred with the same brush.

But yesterday, Pedro Lugo came to thank students at Hampstead Hill.

"I am happy to see you again here," he said haltingly in English, his second language. "And I love you no matter what color you are."

He was followed on the stage by Margaret C. Wicks, the principal.

"Let's hope the healing that the community needs, that the children need, that my staff needs, can now take place," she said. "We have suffered along with you. And as the letters said . . . there is more good here at Hampstead Hill than bad. The children here have suffered. Let the healing take place."

Backstage, Mrs. Wicks leaned her elbows on a battered black piano and sobbed silently into a wad of tissues. On stage, the children were singing "It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday."

Pedro Lugo will turn 25 in April. He has recovered the ability to speak, though he still struggles to shape sentences. The right side of his body is partly paralyzed but getting better with extensive physical therapy. "I have to work hard," he said, smiling.

After yesterday morning's ceremony, two young girls asked him for his autograph. His left hand moved painfully across paper. He insisted on putting the pen back in its cap himself. "I have to do it," he told the friend who wanted to do it for him.

He said he was happy to be at Hampstead Hill and plans to come again. "I wanted to see everybody here," Mr. Lugo said. "I gotta say thank you to everyone here because they send me a lot of cards, a lot of drawings."

"I love everyone," he said. "I don't. . . ." He paused and put his hand to his head for a moment. "I forget what I was going to say."

Four of Mr. Lugo's six siblings attended Hampstead Hill Middle school. Mr. Lugo attended school in his native Dominican Republic. The family lived near the school.

But the Lugos have since moved to Baltimore County. Mrs. Lugo said that they could not risk what happened to Pedro happening again.

At Hampstead Hill Middle, many of the children say they still don't understand what happened to Mr. Lugo. "I don't know why anybody would do something like that," said Stacey Powell, 14, a seventh-grader.

Nor do they understand the public reaction to the crime. Ever since the beating, said 14-year-old Lakesha Grant, police officers seem to be on every corner. "They think that just because two kids from the school are like that, everybody is," she said. "But most of the people here do care and that's what we want to show."

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