The children in the East Baltimore neighborhood where four of their own died in an arson fire this morning thought they had grown numb to the ongoing violence in their lives.
But the fire, coming less than 12 hours after a 2-year-old was shot on a nearby street, was too much for even the most jaded youths.
Cousins Lakecia Wheatley, Donte Wheatley and Anton Davis had chased the racing fire trucks to the 2400 block of East Eager Street, never guessing the scene of horror they would find there. They watched as adults and children screamed outside the burning building. The neighbors knew there were children inside, and yelled for the firefighters to save them.
"I saw this lady and this boy jump out of the window. And then a man jumped -- he was naked," said Anton, 12.
"The men outside told them to throw the babies out," said Lakecia, 10. "I was scared. I didn't want to see the baby die."
Her fear became reality minutes later as a lifeless 2-month-old infant was carried from the flames in a charred infant seat. Two hours after the fire, the cousins could not imagine they would ever forget the scene.
Another child, Darrell Alston, 13, stood across the street and watched as firefighters threw charred furniture and children's toys onto the sidewalk. It seemed to him just an other ugly chapter in a neighborhood that has already seen too much violence.
"It's messed up, because somebody meant to burn the adults up," he said. "And they burned the kids up, too. At least the kids, they had a future. It's getting bad around here. Every week, someone is shot around here. They should open more recs [recreation centers] up around here for the kids."
Roberta Williams, 32, who lived next door to the site of the fatal fire, had rushed to save her children from their house. But she said she doesn't know how to save her children from the cumulative effect of seeing so much, so young. "My kids are not babies," she said. "They know what's going on in their neighborhood. They'll just take it."