Police, 3-year-old at loss over slaying of 'true victim'

January 19, 1992|By David Simon

She's a shy one, this little thing who hangs on the edge of the dining room table, rolling a piece of chocolate candy across the tablecloth. She hides behind a chair back, peeps out, then hides again.

"Stop playing with that," says her mother. "You don't need no more candy."

The little girl smiles, then pushes the chocolate into her mouth. The mother pulls what remains in the candy box across the table and out of sight.

"Grant got killed," says the 3-year-old, giving up her secret.

And the mother says nothing, accustomed to this non sequitur, this three-word mantra that her daughter has been repeating for a month now.

"Grant got killed," she says again.

The mother drags on her cigarette, then shakes her head.

"She's been saying that to everybody since it happened," says the mother. "I didn't think she'd say it to you, but she did."

Grant Thomas Holley got killed, and the little girl was there to see it happen. So, too, was the mother. They were together, the three of them, in the Mass Transit Administration kiosk at Reisterstown Road and Druid Park Drive, waiting for the eastbound No. 22, and then, in an instant, Grant was dead.

"It happened so fast," says the mother.

One shot to the head from the .22-caliber barrel of what police believe was a sawed-off, over-and-under shotgun.

Mr. Holley had the little girl in his lap as he fell from the kiosk bench. He managed to hold on until the mother reached over and took hold of the child. In his left hand was a pack of Kools -- a pack he never had a chance to open.

"I still got them," says the mother. "I took them out of his hand."

And you want a reason. You want to think that nothing can ever be this random, that maybe Grant Holley could have seen this coming, that he had a beef with the gunman, that he was mixed up in drugs, that he foolishly resisted.

"Not this guy," says Bob Bowman, the homicide detective working the case. "From everything we've learned, he's one of our true victims for the year. He's a guy who's waiting to catch a bus and gets shot. And the worst thing about it is that when the uniformed officers pull up, they see the little girl sitting next to the body, holding the guy's hand."

The murder of Mr. Holley, 46, a roofer for 20 years and Park Circle resident shot to death a few feet from his home on the evening of Dec. 8, came in a month of 34 slayings -- when Baltimore was stretching toward its second straight year of more than 300 homicides.

The death received a few seconds of TV time and the not-infrequent four-paragraph treatment in the newspapers.

It's mid-January, and the phone in the homicide unit has yet to ring with a tip. The case remains unsolved.

"We need a call on it," says Detective Bowman. "We need for the phone to ring."

The mother has done all she can, recounting the story to detectives and returning to the headquarters building to describe the gunman for a sketch artist. Mr. Holley was her boyfriend; she'd known him for three years.

"It's hard for me [to explain] to her what happened," she says, nodding toward her child. "She doesn't really understand why he's not here every day, seeing her like he used to."

But the mother, too, has a hard time understanding. How could some kid feel so little that he could shoot a man holding a 3-year-old in his lap? How could the kid pull the trigger without giving anyone a chance?

"If he'd have waited a second, he could have taken everything from us," she says. "We would have given it to him."

The kid took Mr. Holley's life with barely a thought, then watched for a moment as the mother grabbed her child from the dying man's arms and ran down Druid Park Drive, weaving through oncoming traffic, screaming out her fear. Then the kid ran away.

"He didn't take anything," says the mother. "He didn't have time."

Not that there was much to take. After recovering Mr. Holley's clothes in the University of Maryland Medical Center emergency room, police learned that the dead man had nothing on him but pocket change. By that time, the unopened Kools -- his only other possession -- were in the mother's purse.

"If it wasn't for those cigarettes, I'd have been sitting with her on my lap," says the mother. "I'd have been the one on that end of the bench."

Instead, it was Mr. Holley who waited with the little girl while the mother walked across Reisterstown to the Amoco station. She got back with the Kools, handing them to her boyfriend at the same moment the kid walked into the kiosk.

"He pulled the hood of his jacket up around his face, and then turned around, away from us," she says, her eyes closed at the memory. "He had his hand in a pocket, and we thought maybe he's getting money for the bus. But then he turns around and pulls this sawed-off shotgun from under his coat."

Mr. Holley turned to his girlfriend: "Go," he said.

"You know what I want," she heard the kid say. "Give it up."

And then the gunshot, with the kid standing there silent as Mr. Holley falls to the pavement, as if the consequences never dawned on him.

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