Two women were killed and four men were wounded early today when gunmen opened fire at Division and Gold streets in West Baltimore, police said.
Police said they strongly suspect the motive for the shootings is linkedto the area's narcotics traffic although they said the dead were innocent victims caught in a fusillade of gunfire. Police said many drug-related shootings have occurred in the area over the past several months.
The total number of homicides in Baltimore this year now stands at 298, one ahead of the death toll on this date in 1990. Last year, there were 305 slayings in Baltimore, the deadliest year since 1972, when 330 homicides were recorded.
The victims were identified as Joanne Curbeam, 30, of the 2000 block of McCulloh St., who was shot in the chest, and her aunt, Helen Davis, who turned 39 yesterday and lived in the 2100 block of McCulloh St. She was shot in the neck.
"At this point, we can say the shooting involved drugs, based on the evidence we have," said Homicide Detective Earl Etting. "The women who were killed were innocent victims and were accidentally in the line of fire."
The area where the shooting occurred has been designated a "drug-free zone" by the city. Such an area attracts more police attention and arrests can be made more easily there.
A source in the police department's narcotics enforcement section said today the Gold and Division intersection has been a hotbed of drug dealing for nearly three decades. The source said both heroin and crack cocaine can be purchased in that area.
"It is an area we concentrate on," the source said.
No drugs were found on the victims, Etting said. Neither victim has a criminal record, police said.
Etting said three young males armed with semi-automatic handguns walked up to the crowd of people on the corner and started shooting. They were looking for a specific target, he said.
"We are not going to identify that person or the others who were wounded because they are witnesses now," Etting said. He said the target of the gunmen was wounded but not seriously.
Etting said that Curbeam and Davis had come in a cab from East Baltimore, where Davis had celebrated her birthday with relatives, but he was unable to say at what time or why they ended up at Division and Gold streets, several blocks from where they lived.
Police said the street corner was crowded with people shortly after 12:30 a.m. when the gunmen, all apparently armed with 9mm semiautomatic handguns, suddenly opened fire, spraying the area with at least 15 rounds.
Police said both women ran west in the 500 block of Gold St. toward Pennsylvania Avenue.
Curbeam fell to the pavement at Gold and Brunt streets, just a few feet from the front door of the Greater Temple of Peace Apostolic Church, police said.
A plate of ham and other food lay on the pavement nearby, apparently prepared at the birthday party by Curbeam for someone at her home.
Davis died at the southwest corner of Gold Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, police said.
Etting said identifications of the women were confirmed at the scene by relatives.
Police found one of the men wounded in the shootings after he had stumbled onto a state Mass Transit Administration bus at Pennsylvania and Gold, police said.
Another wounded man was found by police in front of the Paradise Lounge in the 2200 block of Pennsylvania Ave., police said.
Both were taken by ambulance to the University of Maryland Medical Center for treatment. Their wounds were not life threatening, police said.
At the hospital, police found another victim of the shooting. He also was expected to live, Smith said.
A fourth man apparently drove to Baltimore County General Hospital Randallstown and was treated for a minor gunshot wound, police said.
Police went to that hospital to question the man.
Witnesses were taken to police headquarters, where homicide detectives interviewed them.
At Division and Gold, police cordoned off the area and found 15 empty 9mm shell casings.