Casual gun use makes all of us potential victims

MICHAEL OLESKER

July 07, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On the grim morning after his old friend's murder, Ted Grillo found the spent bullet on the rooftop deck and relived the horror: the fireworks bursting in the Fourth of July sky, everybody gathered to watch, and then Al McQuade falling to the floor and crying, "I've been shot."

"Me, too," said Russell Durbin.

Clutching his wound, Durbin ran to the window off the deck and dived through it, fearful of being hit again. Someone hollered, "There might be a sniper out there," and everybody crouched low to the floor.

The bullet had gone into Al McQuade's back and come out of his chest, where it hit Durbin in the hand. There were three men and three women on the roof here in the 2000 block of E. Baltimore St., and now confusion reigned. McQuade, looking stunned, stood and turned and Grillo pulled up his shirt and found a tiny hole in his friend's back.

"There's only a little blood," he said, "and it's a teeny hole."

He hadn't seen the chest yet, where the blood was beginning to spill. Now the women were running to the window at the back of the roof's deck, and someone was telephoning for help, and Grillo walked McQuade to the window and slid him in and laid him on the floor.

The wound in the chest didn't look too bad. Grillo grabbed some towels, applying one to the back wound and one to the chest, hoping to control the loss of blood.

"I'm having trouble breathing," McQuade gasped.

"Hold on," Grillo said softly.

"You'll make it," one of the women said.

But the breathing was getting tougher now, and a look began to come over Al McQuade's face: He seemed to know he wasn't going to survive.

"It's just a little hole," said Grillo, trying to encourage him.

"I can't breathe," said McQuade.

"Hold on," said his fiancee, Karen Mullins. "Hold on, we're calling a medic."

"I can't," said McQuade. "I can't."

An ambulance was there in moments, but it was too late. Outside, the last of the city's fireworks was bursting across the Inner Harbor sky and the streets were filling with happy people heading home.

McQuade, 50 years old, a veteran of 32 years at Sparrows Point where he worked as a pipe fitter, a man whose ex-wife described him even now as her best friend, a man who spent his spare time volunteering at a children's camp, a man preparing to remarry late this summer, was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He was the city's 160th homicide victim this year.

On Sunday, the day after the shooting, police arrested two 15-year-old boys and charged them as adults with first-degree murder. One boy lives on the same block. He had a .22-caliber rifle, which police think was fired at liquor bottles sitting on a nearby wall.

The rooftop was simply in the line of fire.

A mistake, said the stepfather of the boy with the rifle. They were just showing off, just taking shots at bottles and "some of the bullets got away."

The stepfather said he knew the boy had the rifle. Then, as if explaining that proper caution had been taken, he said the boy did not keep the weapon in the house.

And now, yesterday morning, Ted Grillo mulled over the words and spoke bitterly.

"It's insane," he said. "They act like it's normal for young people to carry a gun."

"These days," someone said, "it is."

The day after McQuade's murder, 20-year-old Derone Anderson was shot to death on Bland Avenue. Witnesses said there was an argument. Anderson was shot in the head.

With his death, the city is now 13 homicides ahead of last year's murderous pace.

Somewhere, the people who lobby for the protection of gunplay in this country are gathering now. They will tell us not to blame the guns, only the shooters, as if there could be one without the other.

It is all such trash talking. The guns are in such huge supply now, and the use of them is so casual, that it gets tougher all the time to stay out of each other's way.

"We were just sitting there having fun," Ted Grillo said. "No alcohol, no nothing. Just sitting and looking at the fireworks."

The next morning, after he'd washed the blood off his rooftop deck and wiped off the lawn chairs there, Grillo looked down and saw the spent bullet that had taken Al McQuade's life, cut Russell Durbin's hand, and lay there now in the daylight.

"The police couldn't find it in the darkness," he said. "But you know, we got home from the hospital about 1 in the morning, and there was more gunfire. There was gunfire all night long.

"Some of it sounded like someone shooting an AK-47, bursts of six, pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow. I know what gunfire sounds like. Bursts of it, many, many shots."

The bitterness in Grillo's voice had changed now, had been replaced by something that sounded like awe.

"We hear gunfire all the time," he said. "Fourth of July, it was people just shooting their guns in the air to celebrate. They forget that the bullets fall back down like rain, and they can hit someone. And there we were, sitting like ducks in a row."

So are we all now, waiting for some kid with a gun, waiting for some misguided target practice, waiting for some argument to turn violent, some drug deal to go bad, some reflexive finger reaching for a trigger.

And then we will all hear from the gun lobby again, defending the killings with their latest bit of trash.

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