The young men gather on the playground in the 500 block of Presstman St. shortly before dusk, when the temperature cools. As they appear, children jump from the swing sets and sliding boards and seek a safer place to play.
This ritual occurs daily and it is called "shifting" by some residents of this West Baltimore neighborhood. At dusk, the playground loses its innocence as the children's hide-and-seek games are replaced by "touters" hawking drugs with names like Red Top, Jumbo and Gold Star.
Sometimes the worlds of the hustlers and the children collide. And sometimes the collisions are punctuated by gunfire.
Late Tuesday night, a 15-year-old mother was fatally wounded and her toddler son injured when they were caught in a fusillade of bullets.
City police said a bullet went through Adrian Edmonds' right arm and into her chest as she sat on a friend's front steps in the 500 block of Presstman St.
Adrian, who lived less than two blocks from the shooting scene, in the 2200 block of Division St., died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center shortly after the 11:15 p.m. incident.
Her 15-month-old son, Eric Tyler, was shot in the right arm. He was taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center where he was reported in stable condition.
Police have not determined a motive for the shooting spree, which may have involved as many as a dozen participants. No arrests have been made, and no other injuries were reported.
The victims' relatives say the shooting resulted from a drug feud. But homicide Detective Eugene Constantine said it may have been sparked by a dispute over a girl.
Adrian and her son are the latest in a growing list of young shooting victims. So far this year, at least 20 youngsters 15 years old or younger have been hit by bullets.
Adrian was holding her son when she was shot. She either dropped or put the child down as she ran into the house and collapsed in a hallway, witnesses said.
"She was lying down [bleeding], . . ." said Walter Owens, 39, who lives in the house where the wounded girl sought refuge. Mr. Owens said he was on the third floor of the home when he heard six or seven shots outside.
"It sounded like one of those automatics," he recalled.
Witnesses told police that some of the gunmen were from New York. Detective Constantine said that one member of a rival group was shot Monday night.
"It's like 'High Noon,' " the detective said.
An officer who transported young Eric to the emergency room said one of the young men ducked behind the steps where Adrian was sitting. Gunfire intended for him struck her, he said.
"Adrian, she never messed with anybody," said Eddie Blick, her uncle. "She took care of her son."
Jesse Edmonds, the victim's father, said his daughter was like most teen-agers, she "liked to dance and have fun." Asked about the fate of his grandson, he said: "Right now, I don't know what's going to happen. He might go with her aunt."
Yesterday, the Presstman Street playground was empty as mothers clutched their children in the doorways of their nearby homes.
Many parents kept their children in the house for most of the day.
"I see them guys out there everyday. This whole block is a bomb waiting to go off -- this is only part of it," said Andre Barnes, a Presstman Street resident who is the father of a pre-school-aged daughter.
Tyrone Caldwell, who lives nearby, said he regularly scavenges the playground looking for empty bullet casings.
Jimmy Frey, who lives on Brunt Street, which intersects with Presstman Street, doubted whether the shooting would stop dealers from returning.
"Why should it?" Mr. Frey asked. "This is prime territory for anyone who wants to sell drugs. The New York boys, the Baltimore boys, the Washington boys. Anybody. This is a business to them and if someone gets hurt or killed, I don't think it will affect them. I don't think them drug boys will cry one tear."