Boy, 10, is killed "How many of you know someone who's been shot?"

'OUR CHILDREN ARE DYING' A

November 06, 1993|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

Precious Johnson discovered the spelling certificate yesterday morning while going through her little brother's clothing. She wasn't searching for anything in particular. She simply wanted to feel him close to her.

Tauris' spelling certificate puzzled her at first. "He never showed it to me, and he showed me everything," Precious, 14, said. Then she understood, and it pierced her heart. Ten-year-old Tauris had received the certificate at school only the day before. "He'd never had the chance to show it to me," she said.

Precious, a fragile-looking child with tightly braided hair sprinkled with glitter, was in the kitchen of her home on East Oliver Street Thursday afternoon when she heard the gunshots. Moments later, someone was at the front door, telling her Tauris was hurt. She sprang from the house, racing to him.

"I didn't get to him," she said, weeping as though she had somehow failed her brother. "They were holding me back."

Tauris lay face down on the corner, his football in the street several feet away. A reserved but sweet-tempered boy, he had told everyone that he was going to be a football player when he grew up. But this day, he had selected as his imagined playing field the real-life drug market that is Regester Street. As he tossed the ball with his best friend, another 10-year-old, a black car came speeding down Regester, a passenger firing shots from a semiautomatic handgun. On the sidewalk, another man returned fire.

But it was Tauris who was hit, struck once in the head. Three hours later, at 8:35 p.m., he died at nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Yesterday, family members sat glazed-eyed in their narrow rowhouse, patiently answering reporters' questions as if they believed their tragedy obliged them to shake a city into urgency.

"Our children are dying in the street, and don't nobody care," said Tauris' uncle, Don Morton, his voice rising and then breaking in anger and grief.

"God, please, save other people's children," wailed Juanita Belle, who lives with Tauris' father and helped raise the boy.

In Baltimore, the violent death of a child is still a shock but it is no longer a surprise. Gripping his brown-and-white teddy bear to his chest at night, Tauris Johnson often fell asleep to the sound of gunfire from beyond his window. Everyday, from noon to midnight, drug trafficking continued on Regester, 15 yards from his front door. In a war zone, there are always innocent victims.

Bullet hole in door

One neighbor, Gurnie Edwards, said that on a normal day, from his living-room window, he has counted as many as 300 drug transactions on Regester Street. Once a month, when dealers give away free samples -- "testers" -- he has seen 300 people gathered at once.

Mr. Edwards, a home improvement contractor, will not let his four children in the living room, let alone play outside. He worries that a stray bullet through the window will claim them.

As if Tauris' death were not confirmation enough of his fears, when Mr. Edwards returned home Thursday night, he was greeted by a bullet hole through his screen door, presumably from the same gunfight that killed the child.

(Baltimore police have no suspects in the shooting.)

Mr. Edwards has talked to the drug dealers who work outside his house, and those conversations have only chilled him further. "They don't care about themselves, about their brothers or sisters," said Mr. Edwards. "Why would they care about someone else or about their children?"

Make world safer

The boy they didn't care about Thursday was mournfully remembered at home and at school the next day.

At Madison Square Elementary School, at Biddle and Eden streets, where Tauris was a fifth-grader, Principal Doretha Galloway said yesterday she was faced with the task of helping students "try to understand something that's unexplainable." She gave up, she said, instead telling the children that "Tauris wants us to make this world a better place, to turn his death into a victory that helps make the world safer."

For Tauris, the world may never have seemed all that secure. Three years ago, lung cancer took his mother, Debra Ann Johnson, at age 31.

For a time, Precious and Tauris -- two of Ms. Johnson's six children -- found themselves in a foster home. Then their father, William Benjamin Morton, gathered them into his home, where he lived with Ms. Belle and their three children.

Token of affection

Their common hardships fostered an especially close relationship between Precious and Tauris. They shared the same bedroom in their East Oliver house, and Precious, only four years his senior, took the role of doting parent. "We didn't have no mother," she said. "I was trying to be a mother to him."

In her fingers, she held a plastic bag the doctors at Hopkins had given to the family after Tauris' death. It contained a bloodied gold necklace Precious had given her brother a month ago. There was no occasion. It was just a token of her affection.

Recently, she had been saving up more money, "so me and him could go to the movies."

Yesterday, though, she was less the parent than a child in an oversized flannel shirt and plaid sneakers who had endured far more than a 14-year-old was meant to.

"It's so hard because I miss him," she said, making no attempt now to quell the tears. "I wish it was me instead of him. I get tired of going through this."

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