Community finds it hard to condemn shooting of boy, 13

October 12, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer Sun Staff Writer Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.

Nathaniel Hurt tried to make his beleaguered East Baltimore neighborhood a better place. He watched out for crime, swept up alleys and hosed down sidewalks.

Monday night, police said, the 61-year-old neighborhood devotee, who kept a spotless home in a community fighting for survival, shot and killed a boy, Vernon Holmes, age 13.

NTC It was, police said, retaliation. Just an hour earlier, the victim and a group of teens had thrown rocks, shattering Mr. Hurt's car windshield.

Yesterday, Mr. Hurt's family and friends said he acted out of frustration more than anger.

"All that I know is that a child is dead and my dad is in jail," said Sharon Hurt, 37, the suspect's daughter. "I know he is not a hardened criminal. He is an advocate for peace. What happened last night happened out of frustration."

Mr. Hurt was arrested Monday night after a three-hour stand-off with police at his rowhouse in the 800 block of E. North Ave., next door to the community association headquarters.

He was charged with first-degree murder and using a handgun in the commission of a felony in connection with the slaying of the Holmes youth, who lived with a foster-care family in the 700 block of E. 20th St.

Mr. Hurt was ordered held without bail yesterday by a court commissioner and is scheduled for a bail review before a judge this morning.

Police were among the few who openly criticized Mr. Hurt.

"In a case of a 13-year-old throwing rocks, there is nothing that warrants any action against the child except finding the parents or calling the police," said Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr., commander of the Eastern District station. "It is very sad that things like this happen."

The incident is not without precedent. In 1979, Roman Welzant, 68, was charged with killing a young man who pelted his Dundalk home with snowballs. He was later acquitted on all charges.

In 1991, 49-year-old man fatally shot a 13-year-old boy after the youth and others repeatedly rang the man's father's doorbell in West Baltimore.

And in May, a 29-year-old man allegedly pointed a rifle out of his city house and fatally shot a 17-year-old in the back after the youth bumped into his truck and set off the theft alarm.

Residents of the neighborhood where Mr. Hurt and the Holmes youth lived had only kind words and sympathy for the suspect and sadness for the victim, a seventh-grade student at Lombard Middle School, who enjoyed running and playing basketball.

Some blamed police, saying they did not respond quickly enough to a call for a juvenile disturbance.

Police said there had been no calls for assistance at the initial rock-throwing incident. Later, when youths regrouped outside Mr. Hurt's house and began tossing bottles, police were called. Police say officers pulled up four minutes after the first 911 call at 7:46 p.m. The shooting was moments earlier.

"Citizens should not take the law into their own hands," said police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "People need to be confident that law enforcement officers will get there in time to deal with neighborhood issues."

But some residents questioned that advice.

"Is this how we have to take care of what we earn?" said Kenneth Brown, a coordinator for the East Barclay-Midway Community Development Corp. "That's what it seems he was doing, taking care of his."

Sylvia Fulwood, the executive director of the corporation, said Mr. Hurt was an active block captain who called police when he saw crimes being committed and even tried to help the Holmes youth by lending him money and giving him a job at his snoball stand.

"He really worked hard to save the kids," Ms. Fulwood said. "If that little boy was serious about working, Mr. Hurt would have had him at work every day -- if that would have made a difference in the youth's life."

The neighborhood of 6,500 residents has undergone a transition of sorts since March, when police conducted the first of several high-profile sweeps to excise drug dealers. More than 50 people were arrested in an area that had seen 56 shootings and 11 slaying in the prior 15 months.

Since the March raid, police and residents have held firm against violence, keeping streets and alleys clean of trash while watching crime plummet 82 percent in the last seven months.

But some neighborhood youths apparently were intent on maintaining a tough presence. Reports of petty vandalism abound.

"I figured something like this would happen," said Dwayne Edwards, 27, who lives several houses from where the shooting occurred. He said the Holmes youth and his friends used to hang out at the corner of Oakhill and North avenues until late at night and often threw rocks at his friend's Plymouth Reliant station wagon.

"You know how kids are when they get bored," Mr. Edwards continued. "They going to [mess] around with anyone they can just for laughs. That's how he died."

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