William C. Brandon Sr. barely tolerated the neighborhood kids' prank of ringing his doorbell and ducking around the corner before he could answer. His tack was to try and get along with them, as his son had encouraged him to do.
"He told me: 'Daddy, don't hit those kids,' " Mr. Brandon said.
Recalling those words yesterday, Mr. Brandon struggled to understand what happened Sunday night when the same son who had advised him to try and get along with the neighborhood kids allegedly grabbed 13-year-old Rubin "Moe" Lawson by the collar and shot him once in the chest -- ostensibly because the youngster and other neighbor kids had been ringing his father's doorbell.
"If he didn't want me to hit one," Mr. Brandon asked, "how the hell would he shoot one?"
The police have issued an arrest warrant for his son, William C. Brandon Jr., 49, who was on one year's probation for drug possession. They have charged him with first-degree murder. The younger Mr. Brandon was still being sought by the police last night. He was last seen walking down the alley in the first block of North Smallwood Street where Rubin fell mortally wounded.
The shooting left those who knew either young Lawson or his alleged killer groping for some explanation of why a grown man, described by his neighbors as a friendly, caring man, a virtual block captain who loves kids, would collar a child and allegedly shoot him in the chest at point-blank range.
"When parents and kids would start fighting out here, he was the peacemaker," said one of the younger Brandon's neighbors in the 600 block of North Brice Street. "Wherever he's at, I hope he gives himself up and puts it in the Lord's hand because He's the only one to judge. We can't really judge."
After the shooting, in what the police believe was an act of retaliation, someone set fire to the elder Mr. Brandon's pickup truck.
The incident that led to the death of a 13-year-old middle school student, who was one of 10 children in his family, started innocently enough. Young Lawson and some other kids were playing, ringing doorbells and jumping over the railings separating the porches of the two-story row houses lining the west side of North Smallwood Street.
"It happens all the time around here," said Kathy Bidinger, 12. "Everybody does it. Sometimes I do it -- just ring the bell and run."
Mr. Brandon knows that all too well. He said he felt singled out by the kids, though other neighbors say that isn't so. Still, a sign in his front window reads: "No Trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted." Mr. Brandon also said children dumped trash on his stoop.
Sunday night, Rubin Lawson was visiting his grandmother, Henrietta Archer, who lives around the corner from where the shooting occurred. The younger Mr. Brandon also was visiting the area, stopping by the brick row house on North Smallwood occupied by his father.
The elder Mr. Brandon said that it was clear something was bothering his son. During the visit, his son started to cry.
"I'd never seen him crying before," Mr. Brandon said.
His son ate alone, fixed a bag of food for his puppy, then fell asleep.
"So I sat down and fixed me a plate and that's when the damn doorbell rang. Beep! Beep! Beep! I went to the door, but nobody was there. This has been happening all year," he said.
"I came in here and told my son: 'Go out there and straighten that kid up.' I had no idea he was going to shoot him. The way I figured, if a younger person goes out there, they might listen more than if it was an old man."
As his son tried to talk to the kids, the elder Mr. Brandon said young Rubin Lawson taunted him, cursed him and threatened to beat him up. Mr. Brandon doesn't know if it was Rubin's taunts or something unspoken that caused his son to allegedly react so violently.
"It's just something that happened at the spur of the moment and I don't know what the hell it was," Mr. Brandon said. "It's a sad thing that a child's life had to be cut short, but when a child jumps up in front of an adult, he's asking for trouble."
Kathy Bidinger said the younger Mr. Brandon initially told the kids to leave the doorbell alone and went in the house, only to return later and argue. "Rubin was trying to get away from him and then that man came over and grabbed him and shot him in the chest," she said. "It's so bad. I mean, a 13-year-old. I mean, that could've been me."
Witnesses said Rubin was shot in the middle of the street.
"He crawled until he got to the alley and that's when he fell on his back," said Michelle Wheatley, who lives next door to the elder Mr. Brandon, and described him as "very nasty. He didn't like kids. He didn't like kids sitting on his porch."
Meanwhile, Rubin's grandmother, Henrietta Archer, heard the bang of a single gunshot as she sat in her house playing solitaire.
"I jumped up and I said: "Oh my God. And that's when I heard somebody say Moe had been shot," she said. She ran to the scene and there in the alley, beneath a street light, cradled her dying grandchild.
The official time of death at University of Maryland Medical Center is listed as 8:35 p.m.
In the younger Mr. Brandon's neighborhood, his friends insist something else must have happened.
Jeffrey Word, a friend of the younger Mr. Brandon who last saw him at The New Cotton Club bar before he left to visit his father, said: "He wasn't a person that got out in the street wanting to fight and shoot. That's why when I heard it, it was a shock. I couldn't believe it. I could not believe it. He's not that type of person."
But in the 900 block of Edmondson Avenue, where young Rubin's family gathered in their three-story row house, his grandmother, Mrs. Archer, asked why, if the Brandons were so disturbed, they didn't call the police or come to her.