'He has my whole life in his hands' Woman recalls carjacking horror BALTIMORE CITY

August 31, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Rochelle Smith-Howard had just left church in West Baltimore when she had the most gut-wrenching encounter of her life. A blood-splattered gunman pulled her out of her car at an intersection and drove off with her three young daughters and nephew sitting on the vehicle's back seat.

She was powerless to do anything but give futile chase to the fleeing car as the frightened children screamed for help.

"All I could think about was that he has my whole life in his hands," Ms. Smith-Howard, a mother of four, recalled from the tiny living room of her East Baltimore home. "Except for one of my children, he [the gunman] had my whole life with him."

Yesterday, at the family's home, it was hard to tell that 6-year-old Brittany Howard had experienced such a scary episode. She groomed the low-cut beard on her father's face and played with her siblings as if this was just an other day.

Just 23 hours earlier, she had been in the car along with her sisters, Tierra Smith, 9, and Kenya Howard, 3, and her cousin, Javon Williams, 3. The girls remember the carjacker screaming "shut up" before he crashed the vehicle, their mother said.

The incident occurred about 1 p.m. Sunday as the gunman fled a shooting in the 1100 block of N. Gilmor St.

The victim, Clarence Bunch, 27, was shot twice in the abdomen and was listed in critical but stable condition last night at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Mr. Bunch was shot during a confrontation with four other men, city police reported.

The children were uninjured when the car crashed five blocks from the shooting scene. Mrs. Smith-Howard suffered a bruised shoulder.

No arrests have been made and the motive for the shooting is unclear, city police said last night.

Mrs. Smith-Howard was on her way home from St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church when the carjacking occurred at a stop sign at Gilmor Street and Riggs Avenue. Shortly before she reached the intersection, two of the fleeing men had tried to commandeer a car driven by Gilbert Barnes, 68, of Northeast Baltimore.

Mr. Barnes sped away, with at least one shot being fired at his vehicle.

"I had heard gunshots, but I saw nothing," said Ms. Smith-Howard. "As I took my foot off the brake, the car started moving," she said. "He jumped in." She said she fell to the ground after being shoved out of the car. She got back up, she said, and tried to give chase.

After the crash, the carjacker turned to the children and said: " 'I'll be back. Wait right here,' " young Brittany recalled.

But the 6-year-old had no intentions of waiting. She persuaded the other children to leave the car. A passing motorist cared for the children until police arrived at the scene.

Meanwhile, Ms. Smith-Howard was so upset that she had trouble explaining what had happened when she phoned home and spoke with her mother and husband.

"It was just so scary," Ms. Smith-Howard said, shaking her head. "I can't believe the society we live in."

Neither she nor the children ever want to see her now-damaged 1978 Chevrolet Nova again, even if it's not destroyed, she said, because it could trigger some nasty memories.

"They saw blood," said her husband, Kenneth Howard. "[The carjacker] wiped blood on the car seat. And they saw him throw his gun out the window."

The children told their parents that the carjacker "acted like it was his car," going through the glove compartment, taking Ms. Smith-Howard's purse and fleeing after the crash with a bag containing $150 worth of clothing that had been purchased for her 14-year-old son Mark Smith, who was not in the car when the carjacking occurred.

Yesterday, Mrs. Smith-Howard and her husband, Kenneth, were concerned that the girls would suffer mental scars from the ordeal.

Mrs. Smith-Howard was pondering her mother's suggestion that she seek treatment to avoid mental scarring as well.

Mrs. Smith-Howard said she was especially concerned about young Kenya, a talkative girl who had clammed up after the carjack- ing.

"She didn't want to hear about it or talk about it last night," Ms. Smith-Howard said of her youngest daughter as the three girls sat on a living room chair. "She just wanted to be sheltered."

The family also is wondering how to replace the car that Ms. Smith-Howard needs to get to her job as a claims adjuster at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland.

Mr. Howard uses the family's other car to drive to his job at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point.

"I'm losing pay, there are brand new school clothes and shoes. I have to replace all of it," she lamented.

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