As Charlie bleeds to death, so does a neighborhood

March 14, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Charlie Christensen was waiting for the bus at Park Circle last week when death arrived instead. It arrived at the end of a gun, the way it does nearly every day in this bleeding city, but for Charlie it arrived without a word of protest, for never in his 40 years could he speak or hear.

The police say two teen-age boys dressed in black were spotted running from the scene, up Reisterstown Road and then east on Suffolk Avenue. It was noon last Tuesday. One of the boys had a gun. A witness says the two were hollering at Charlie, maybe over money and maybe not, their voices rising and Charlie unable to communicate back and so the boys hollering louder, and then there was a gunshot and a bullet went into Charlie's knee and then ripped open a major artery in his thigh.

Cars drove past and kept on going. Charlie lay on his back, with his blood running down Reisterstown Road, and he tried to get up and then fell back down again. People approached him, saw the blood, and turned away.

Finally, a mechanic named Johnny Dow looked out from his car and ran over. Stay calm, Dow said. Charlie Christensen made signing motions with his hands, but Dow didn't understand. So Charlie tried to move again. Stay calm, Dow said. Don't try to get up. Stay still.

Now another man pulled up, and he had a medical kit in his car. He and Dow tore Charlie's pants leg open and began pressing gauze into the terrible open wound in his thigh, but the blood kept pumping out of him, literally shooting into the air, a fountain of it, Johnny Dow would remember later, and the bleeding wouldn't stop.

Charlie Christensen kept pointing to his midsection. The two men didn't understand him. Charlie's head was bobbing and rolling now, and there was blood all over his face and his pale belly and legs, and he tried to grip a light pole with one bloody hand and prop himself up. He was too weak to do it, and he lay back down.

Now his lank, thinning hair lay damp on the ground beneath him. Police arrived and called for an ambulance. Long minutes went by. Charlie Christensen kept pointing to his midsection, and nobody understood him, and at 1:18 p.m., slightly more than an hour after he was shot, he died in the emergency room at Sinai Hospital.

"Bled to death," a police spokesman said yesterday.

"Kept pointing to his midsection," Johnny Dow said yesterday, "because he wanted us to take off his belt and use it as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. He tried to talk to us in his way. But we didn't know what he was saying. Lord help us, we just didn't know."

Deaf since birth

There was no way Charlie knew how to tell. Deaf since birth, he spoke through signing and hoped those around him might understand. He'd lived alone for the last 12 years at the Louis W. Foxwell Memorial Apartments for the handicapped and disabled, Greenspring Avenue several long blocks from Park Circle, and he'd walked up to Reisterstown Road last Tuesday to wait for a bus.

It was his day off. Yesterday his father, Don Christensen Sr., said Charlie was an independent fellow who took the bus all over town, to visit his parents in Towson, to work as a wood finisher at Goldfinger's wholesale furniture company, on East Oliver Street, travel around town on his days off. He said the family was offering a reward for information leading to the capture of his son's killers.

"Charlie was a vibrant individual," Don Christensen said.

"Always willing to help anybody," said an employee at the Foxwell Apartments. "A lovely, lovely man."

Lovely.

The good life

That's a word they once used about the neighborhood where Charlie Christensen was shot. Park Circle, where Druid Hill Park meets lower Reisterstown Road and Park Heights Avenue, was the gateway to northwest suburbia for thousands of midcentury Baltimoreans. If you made it to Park Circle, you'd achieved middle-class status and the good life for your family.

Now you find Charlie Christensen bleeding to death there, and people turning away in horror. Now you drive up Reisterstown Road, and look at what it's become, and you want to turn away some more because it's a piece of the city dying.

Take a look at businesses across the street from Christensen's shooting, some with iron grating over all the doors and windows and others with wire mesh covered by metal bars, layer over layer trying to hold out the night.

Keep driving up Reisterstown Road: houses with peeling paint, windows and doors boarded up, houses with burglar alarm signs in the front yard and metal bars on windows and other houses where it's simply not worth the trouble any more.

And then you come to the 4000 block, to the intersection where a kindergarten teacher from Malcolm X Elementary named Julie Lombardi was shot in the face one afternoon by a teen-age kid who wanted her car.

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