Boy, 9, dies after being shot in back

April 11, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Tears ran down Charlene Singletary's face as she sat on the sofa in her East Baltimore rowhouse yesterday, talking quietly about her youngest son, Tito Taylor, 9, who died less than 12 hours earlier from a bullet in his back.

The alleged gunman told police the shooting was an accident.

"I want people to know that I loved my son," said Ms. Singletary, 38. "That was my baby son, and now he's gone because of a mistake that shouldn't have been a mistake."

Tito, an energetic third-grader at Brehms Lane Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore, was shot in the left side of his back shortly after 11:30 p.m. Saturday while playing with his friends near a carryout food store at East Chase and North Collington streets.

He died at 1:24 a.m. yesterday while undergoing surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said investigators later arrested Derry Williams, 17, who lives a block away in the 2200 block of Prentiss Place. The Williams youth was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. He was being held at the Eastern District lockup.

The youth, accompanied by his mother, reportedly turned himself in to police.

Police said the Williams youth told them he was sitting with friends on some steps in the 2200 block of E. Chase St., showing them a handgun just before the shooting. "He claims he was passing the weapon off to someone else, and it accidentally discharged," Mr. Ringgold said.

Initial reports suggested the gun was fired when a nearby dice game broke up in a dispute, but police later discounted that.

Official details on the shooting were few.

Ms. Singletary said a detective told her that there was a large group of young men near the corner of East Chase and North Collington late Saturday night, some of them playing dice. Someone in the group bet the gunman that there were no bullets in the weapon, she was told.

"The detective told me that the guy said when he was pulling the trigger, it just took off by mistake," she said.

Tito, who was playing nearby, fell to the ground, bleeding from a wound near his left kidney. He curled up and went into shock, his mother said.

"My oldest son [Kenneth Singletary, 16] was the one with him, holding him, calling him, howling 'Tito! Tito!,' waiting for the ambulance," Ms. Singletary said.

Kenneth said he did not want to talk about the shooting.

Neighbors reported that the gunman ran a half-block down North Collington Street and tossed the gun in a trash bin. Ms. Singletary said she and one of her sons later retrieved it and turned it over to police.

Ms. Singletary said she was shopping when Tito was shot. As she returned to her home in the 1000 block of N. Collington St., she said, "I seen all my friends staring at me. I said, 'Why are they staring at me? Who got shot?' They told me, and I went straight to the hospital."

Sleepless and drained, she was surrounded yesterday by friends and family members.

They described Tito as a happy, playful child. "He liked to do a lot of things," Ms. Singletary said. "He liked playing basketball. He was always happy. Even when he was sick, he was still happy."

It was not unusual for him and many neighborhood children to be outside playing late at night, said Ms. Singletary. The children are full of energy that can't be contained in a small rowhouse, she said.

"As long as he ran in the area where he lived at, it was fine," she said.

But she acknowledged the neighborhood is not safe.

"You hear guns all the time," Ms. Singletary said. "I seen a guy get robbed. I seen a guy get stabbed. You don't miss nothing around here."

The youth accused of shooting Tito had "no business having that gun, trying to prove there was bullets in it," she said. "He knows all those people are out there."

Residents said the area was "packed" with children Saturday night.

"He was old enough to know, and now I feel bad because my son is gone," Ms. Singletary said. "And he says it was a mistake. Can he bring my son back? No.

"I haven't been to sleep. I haven't ate nothing. All I've been doing is crying and trying to hold my tears. All I can do is get up and clean," she said.

She urged parents to "teach their kids, make them go to school and learn that a gun is not a thing to play with. You don't need to have a gun to be a big man."

Concerned that the first-degree murder charge against Mr. Williams might not hold up, Ms. Singletary said the courts should impose stiffer sentences on people who kill people with guns, even accidentally.

"We're losing our youth to people who make mistakes," said Addie Taylor, who said she was Ms. Singletary's best friend but no relation to Tito.

"You know what this gun can do when you put it in your hand. If you make a mistake like this, you should be responsible for your mistakes."

Tito is also survived by his father, Dennis Taylor, 34, who is in prison; a sister, Shawnice Singletary, 18, and two other brothers, Dominic Hughes, 13, and Ricky Hughes, 11; and his grandmother, Betty Anthony, all of Baltimore.

More than 30 children aged 18 and under were treated for gunshot injuries at the Hopkins Children's Center pediatric trauma unit last year, up from 19 the year before.

Nationally, the Children's Defense Fund says a child or teen-ager is killed by gunfire every two hours in the United States -- the equivalent of a classroom of children every two days.

Homicide is now the third-leading cause of death for elementary and middle school children, ages 5 to 14, the fund says.

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