Family of boy caught in cross-fire tries to move on

November 04, 1994|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Robert Hilson Jr. contributed to this article.

Standing only a few steps from where 10-year-old Tauris Johnson was shot a year ago today, the woman who raised him can't bring herself to look at the spot.

As she waved to old neighbors and talked easily about her family's new life in Randallstown, Juanita Belle's aversion to the corner of Regester and Oliver streets was a sign of the trauma that remains.

But Ms. Belle said she has been comforted by dreams in which Tauris has spoken to her.

"He told me, 'Move on,' " she said yesterday. "He didn't die for nothing; he died for us. People need to look out for their kids."

Ms. Belle, 34, said she was looking out for her kids when she and Tauris' father moved five months ago from their East Baltimore home of 12 years. They moved "because of the tragedy, and I don't want it to happen to the rest of my kids, and I wanted to put them in a better neighborhood."

The tragedy that drove them away took the life of a fifth-grade boy who loved playing football.

Tauris was the only person killed in the drug-related gunbattle that broke out shortly after dusk last Nov. 4 -- one block from his house.

Across town, Nathaniel Dawson Jr., Nathaniel Dawson Sr. and Seth Webb have been on trial for a month on federal drug conspiracy and murder charges stemming from the shooting. The charges include the February murder of Latisha Murphy, the woman who testified before a grand jury against the younger Dawson and others. Beverly Brown is charged with drug conspiracy.

The jury is expected to begin its deliberation Tuesday. Ms. Belle said she has not followed the case closely.

Tauris' mother died four years ago of lung cancer. Ms. Belle had helped his father William Morton, 53, raise Tauris, his 15-year-old sister, Precious, and his three stepsisters, ages 8, 9 and 10.

The family's quiet new neighborhood and four-bedroom house with a lawn have not erased their memories of Tauris.

Precious Johnson and Tauris' three stepsisters often cry after watching home videos of Tauris. "I can't control them 'cause fTC they see their brother right there," Ms. Belle said.

The sight of children playing upsets the girls too.

"All of them goes in their room and slams the door because everybody else [is] out there riding bikes and throwing balls," she said. "It's rough."

And seeing the place where Tauris was fatally wounded is rough for Ms. Belle. "I don't want to look back to it," she said.

But the memories of last Nov. 4 come back to her anyway.

Dressed in a red and white warm-up suit and dangling elephant earrings, Ms. Belle recounts what happened that evening.

"I only went to Super Pride up the street," she said.

When she left Tauris asked her, "Ma, please could I play football?"

Regester Street was full of children throwing balls late that afternoon, so she let him stay there with Precious while she went to the store.

But Ms. Belle knew something was wrong when she came back to find police blocking off Oliver Street at Broadway. When she parked and stepped out of the car, someone was running toward her yelling, "It's Tauris, your son!"

"I ran over, and there was my son with a bullet to his head, and I fell out," she said. Tauris died that night at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Public outcry and stepped-up police attention in the weeks after the shooting may have driven the dealers off Regester Street, but neighborhoods around the shooting site are still rife with drug activity.

"Kids shouldn't be playing outside their homes in those neighborhoods," said Councilman Carl Stokes, the 2nd District Democrat who represents the area. "They should be able to, but they should not do it given the reality."

Davon Franklin, 11, knows the reality all too well.

Davon, Tauris' best friend, was playing football with him a few feet from his own front steps when the shooting broke out. "Davon don't hardly never come outside," said his 14-year-old sister, Danielle Franklin.

Danielle has marked Nov. 4 in her calendar " 'cause it's special."

She had heard distant gunfire before, but that evening she saw fiery bullets fly past her second-floor bathroom window and land in the street in front of her house. "That's what scared me the most," she said quietly while sitting on her front steps yesterday afternoon.

Ms. Belle said the dreams keep Tauris close to her.

PD "It's not [a] long year to me, because he's still here with me."

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