Whatever happened to Brandy Bell? Troubled times: Last year she was shot twice within five weeks. This year the 14-year-old is dealing with it.

October 24, 1995|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

One year ago, she made the news twice.

Brandy Bell was shot by stray bullets on two occasions while standing in virtually the same spot on Lexington Street, outside her home in the Lexington Terrace public housing complex.

On Sept. 23, 1994, a teen-ager opened fire on the street. The bullet grazed her. Five weeks later, Brandy was watching a pick-up football game with friends when a white Cadillac pulled up to the corner of Fremont Avenue and Lexington. A man rolled down the window and fired 10 shots into the crowd. It sounded like firecrackers. Brandy was shot in her right leg.

The bullet remains lodged in her upper leg, and the long-term prognosis is unclear, the newspaper said in October 1994.

It is a fact of life in Baltimore, a fact of life in most cities, that people get shot by stray bullets. But this was different. Brandy Bell was news. Then she stopped being news, and her name went out of print. A year has passed, and there's this pale memory of a girl shot twice while playing in her own neighborhood, shot twice and just 13 years old.

Is she in school? Is she happy? Is she scarred for life or just scarred on her leg?

How is Brandy Bell?

"To me, she's lost," says her great-aunt, Barbara McKinney, who lives two floors up from Brandy in the housing project. "There's got to be some counseling for her."

"We will reach out to her," says Dr. Mark Weist, a clinical psychologist at Southwestern High School, where Brandy is a 10th-grader.

"I do worry about her," says her former elementary teacher, Gwen Martin. "I just want her to know peace."


There once was a third-grader from West Baltimore who liked to write letters and stories.

Dear Trentaya,

You is my best friend. You are a very nice little girl. But I want you to stop fussying and fighting. Do you want to be a class clown. You want to get an education. Or you want to be like other children?

Please be good Trentaya for me.

"I saved this because I thought it was so cute," says Ms. Martin, who taught Brandy at Lexington Terrace Elementary. In 1988, Brandy was tall for her age. She had a round face with soft brown eyes. Ms. Martin thought the world of her. Brandy was spunky -- what other teachers might have called mouthy. You always knew what Brandy was feeling because she would surely let you know, her teacher remembers. "She was just so loving and expressive."

Brandy stayed after class to help Ms. Martin tidy up. She $H became one of those rare students teachers keep in their lives years after a school year ends.

"She let me into her life," Ms. Martin says. Brandy's life: "She had a rough time of it, dealing with peer pressure, and just trying to sort out right and wrong."

Please take me back over you mother house, Brandy wrote in red crayon to her teacher. Ms. Martin would take Brandy up to Pennsylvania to visit with Ms. Martin's parents. They'd go to Chocolate World or hiking. Ms. Martin, a Mennonite, also took Brandy to Bible school. Four years ago, Brandy and two friends sang "Glory" and "Celebrate Jesus" at Gwen Martin's wedding.

Ms. Martin had dinner with Brandy a month after the shootings.

"I realized I'm talking to a woman now -- not the little girl I used to know so well. She was all grown up," Ms. Martin says. "And I was shocked to find she seemed to be taking the shootings in stride."

Still, she's concerned about Brandy, the girl who, in fourth grade, took loud exception to her new teacher questioning the class on what they had learned back in the third grade. "Don't you talk bad about Miss Martin!" hollered Brandy.

The girl who, in third grade, loved to write -- especially about Halloween.

October 1988: She was a mean and nasty witche. She comes out at night so she can catch little children and eat them for dinner. She likes little children that are 9 years old. They taste good and make here get fat.

Their mother came and poured the water on the witche and the witche was gone.


The view is downright bonny from the 10th floor of the Lexington Terrace housing project in West Baltimore. From Ms. McKinney's two-bedroom, $58 a month (no shower) apartment, she can spy on panoramic Baltimore. Gulls flap up to her windowsill to snatch bread crumbs planted by the tenant.

Brandy's great-aunt has lived here since 1959. She keeps her windows open in the fall, and it's the best of breezes.

"BRANDY!" hollers Ms. McKinney, standing on the fenced balcony on the 10th floor. Brandy has been staying in her aunt's apartment on the eighth floor. Brandy feels close to her mom, who lives here, too. Brandy doesn't know where her father lives, but she sees him around.

"He came to see me after I was shot," she says. "He was there for me."

In this chain-linked community, it's nothing to holler down two flights to grab someone's attention. Even if there was a phone in Brandy's aunt's apartment, there's no need to call Brandy. Just stand on the balcony and let it rip:


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