13-year-old is killed in a spray of gunfire

November 23, 1993|By Michael James and David Michael Ettlin | Michael James and David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writers Staff writers Norris P. West and JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Baltimore lost another of its children to gunfire yesterday -- a 13-year-old boy who died in a spray of bullets aimed into a housing project apartment on the city's east side.

Police said the shots were fired from an assault rifle through a living room window of the two-story Hollander Ridge dwelling, allegedly by a 17-year-old neighbor who was being sought on a murder charge last night.

"The inside of the house was riddled with bullets -- in the rear wall, the ceiling, the refrigerator, all over," said Police Agent Doug Price as investigators went through the ground floor digging out the slugs as evidence.

The slain youth, Lawrence Miller, was Baltimore's 316th murder victim this year -- a grim number, 20 ahead of the death toll on the same date last year, when a record 335 people were slain.

Five people were in the apartment in the 2300 block of Odell Ave. when the shots were fired -- a 19-year-old man whose mother was not home at the time, and four visitors: A 17-year-old boy; Lawrence, of the 1100 block of N. Port St., whose family said he had been released from a detention center several weeks ago; and his twin 15-year-old brothers.

Police said the teen-agers scattered and dived for cover as the shots rang out. At least seven bullet holes pierced the front window and the orange metal siding below it. One slug passed through the front window and out the back window, police said.

Nearby residents wondered why the youths were not in school and talked about living in fear, helpless as drug-dealing and oft-heard gunfire narrowed their world.

"I think they got to get the drugs out of here finally," said George Jackson, 67, who lives with his chronically ill wife in a high-rise public housing building overlooking the scene. "I've tried to call everybody about this problem, even the state police. And I never get any help. I'm scared to go out and cash my wife's check."

As he spoke, police officers carrying shotguns surrounded a low-rise apartment a block away in the 2300 block of Edewing Court.

The officers waited about an hour and a half until a special tactical team stormed the apartment, only to find the suspect -- young Marquis Bryson -- was not at home. He was charged as an adult with first-degree murder in an arrest warrant obtained by detectives in mid-afternoon.

Although the police questioned the four teen-age survivors and quickly identified a suspect, detectives said little about the reason for the violence -- only that it appeared to be drug-related. They would not elaborate.

Police searched the apartment on Odell Avenue and found a handgun. But no drugs were found, a spokesman said. Detectives were awaiting a search warrant before combing the suspect's home last night.

The Police Department did not have a count of the number of children killed by gunfire in the city this year.

But Dr. J. Alex Haller Jr., professor of pediatric surgery and emergency medicine at Hopkins, pointed out last week that "for the first time, we've got more kids under 14 dying of handgun injuries than in motor vehicle accidents."

Just a week ago, a group of doctors and nurses urging a new gun-control bill pointed out that 29 children had been treated for gunshot wounds so far this year at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center alone.

Lawrence was the youngest victim in Baltimore since 10-year-old Tauris Johnson was caught in the cross-fire of a drive-by shooting while playing football with friends on East Oliver Street Nov. 4 -- a slaying that remains unsolved.

How Lawrence ended up mortally wounded in Hollander Ridge, and pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins from a chest wound, was traced in part yesterday by his mother, 35-year-old Rhonda Branch.

The seventh-grader overslept, she said, and wasn't able to catch the bus to Herring Run Middle School -- his first absence since being released from the Waxter Children's Center in Laurel after a two-month stay on a drug charge.

Ms. Branch said he went in a hack's car -- an unlicensed cab -- to Hollander Ridge with his twin brothers, Earl and Daryl Davis, to visit a friend of the family, whom they referred to as a cousin. She believed the friend was the intended victim.

"The bullet wasn't even meant for him," she said, sobbing in the kitchen of her home on North Port Street in East Baltimore.

The youths were visiting 19-year-old Tauris Ennis, whose aunt, identifying herself only as Carolyn, also believed yesterday that Tauris was the intended target.

"We'd heard something was coming up. Tauris was worried somebody might come to the house," his aunt said.

"Whoever shot through that window was shooting to kill everybody. They just didn't care," she said. "The police were telling me they thought it was over a girl."

Lawrence Miller was the third youngest of Ms. Branch's six children -- called "Knuckles" because his fists were balled when he was born.

Family members remembered him as a mischievous boy who had begun to turn his life around after his stay at Waxter.

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