As Joanne Curbeam left her parents' house after Christmas dinner with the family, her mother warned, "Be careful. It's danger out there. Be careful."
Curbeam left with her aunt, Helen Davis, who celebrated her 39th birthday Christmas Day.
Not long afterward, at half-past midnight yesterday, both women were shot dead as three men with semiautomatic weapons sprayed a crowd with gunfire at Gold and Division streets in West Baltimore.
Police said the women were innocent bystanders caught in the cross-fire of a dispute over drugs, in a section of town that has long been notorious for drug-dealing.
Curbeam, 30, lived in the 2000 block of McCulloh St. Davis lived in the 2100 block. Family members said the women had taken a taxi from the East Baltimore home of Curbeam's parents and were shot as they walked to a Pennsylvania Avenue bar to buy eggnog.
Four men were wounded by the gunfire, including the intended target, identified as Jason Thalley, 23, of the first block of Serpens Court in Rosedale, and one of the suspected shooters. None of the four was seriously injured.
Police today charged one of the wounded, Timothy Brown, 19, of the 2000 block of Pennsylvania Ave., as being one of the shooters. Police said Brown apparently accidentally shot himself. Warrants were issued for two young men.
The other wounded were identified as Craig Taylor, 25, of the 1600block of Forest Park Ave., and Dandi Worthy, 36, of the 1300 block of N. Fremont Ave.
Police spokesman Dennis Hill said the incident apparently began with an argument between Thalley and the gunmen. The gunmen may have been "New York drug people who live in the area," Hill said, referring to a recent migration of New York dealers to Baltimore.
Hill said it appeared that "there was a short-change" in a drug deal. No narcotics were found on any of the shooting victims.
Craig Taylor, who had just taken a cab from his mother's house on Forest Park Avenue, was walking the remaining two blocks to a friend's house at Druid Hill Avenue and Gold Street. Suddenly, he said, he saw Thalley running toward him, with gunmen in hot pursuit.
"They were running toward him and kept shooting," Taylor said. "I didn't know what he was running for, but it being a drug area, I had someidea."
The identities of the two women were confirmed at the scene of the shooting by family members.
Rose Ashford, Curbeam's mother, said her daughter had three children, ages 8 to 11 years, and that she had worked as a nursing assistant at a nursing home on Eutaw Place. Other family members said Davis stayed home with her five children, ages 5 to 23.
Curbeam had moved only four months ago from her mother's house on Tivoly Avenue to McCulloh Street. "She was a sweet, loving child that always kept a smile on her face," said her father, Joe Curbeam.
Davis' children say they had lived on McCulloh Street for about nine years and that it was relatively quiet and safe. One of her sons, Tommy Bevans, 20, said he remembered his mother warning him not to turn the corner onto Gold Street.
But he rounded the corner yesterday morning to follow a fire truckthat came screaming up McCulloh. "I said, 'Somebody must have got shot'," Bevans said. He said a girl told him that his mother had been shot.
His sister, Tammy Davis, 21, said she had told her mother and cousin to hurry back from their errand. "They just took a chance, that's all," she said.
People living around Gold and Division streets said the intersection is often busy with drug traffic at night and that the sound of gunshots has become almost commonplace.
"You hear them so much until you just start to get used to them," said a woman who listened to yesterday's commotion from her bed.
The woman, who declined to give her name, said her young grandchildren are afraid to go outside. She said some elderly residents rely on relatives or members of their churches to bring them food, rather than risk venturing out of their homes to buy it themselves.
Charles Montgomery, 70, still goes out, but usually not after dark. Since moving to the corner of Gold and Division streets with his wife in 1948, he said, he has watched the neighborhood change from a quiet one in which "people looked out for each other" to "a war zone."
Montgomery, a retired construction worker, recalled that in 1948, Pennsylvania Avenue, two blocks away, was bright and bustling with nightclubs and theaters. "It was some place a man could take his wife," he said.
Now he doesn't know the young men idling on the corners, whom he sometimes has to shoo away from his front steps.
They come from other parts of the city, Montgomery said.