In one brief, violent flash, two sons lost

July 28, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

It happened this way.

Around 2 a.m. on Friday, July 19, some girls came to Charlene Vandiver's door and said her son, Antonio Crossley, had been shot in the 700 block of Poplar Grove St.

"I jumped up and was on my way up there, but something said, 'Char, don't go up there.' God kept me back," Vandiver said Friday as she sat in a chair in the living room of her home in the 600 block of N.Dukeland St. A friend told her only a few minutes later that her oldest child, Tony, 18, was already dead.

Just one block away, through an alley that leads from Dukeland Street down to a corner house on Glenolden Avenue, Patricia Harris was jolted from her sleep by banging on her front door, shouts and screams.

"I looked at the clock," Harris recalled. "I jumped up. My mind went blank. I could hear screaming. I heard my daughter screaming, 'No, no, no!' and I knew it was Donnell." Donnell Harris, 16, Harris' youngest child and Tony's closest friend, lay beside him in a pool of blood on Poplar Grove Street, the victims of a homicide for which police have not found a motive.

"I drove up there, and he was laying on the ground," Harris continued. "The police wouldn't let me get near him. I don't know what I did after that. I really don't."

So in one brief, violent flash two women lost their teen-age sons. But the tragedy didn't end there. Nine hours later a man police identified as Omar Faroug, 19, tried to dispel rumors that he was the one who killed Tony and Donnell. Seated in the passenger seat of a car in the 2700 block of Harlem Ave. -- within walking distance of where both boys lived -- Faroug told one of his accusers, "It wasn't me," according to police.

But the passion for street justice -- an oxymoron if ever there was one -- and revenge prevailed where reason failed. Someone fired three shots into the car, hitting Faroug once in the head and twice in the body. The driver sped off up Harlem Avenue and veered right onto Poplar Grove Street, stopping at the exact spot where Tony and Donnell were slain, according to the Rev. Willie Ray. Faroug died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Thursday Ray held a prayer vigil -- in the driving rain, right in the middle of Harlem Avenue -- for both youths and their families. He did it as part of his never-ending "Stop The Killing" campaign. He also did it, he said, to cool tensions in the neighborhood, to stop reprisals or revenge killings before they start.

Tomorrow, Ray will lead a 5: 30 p.m. march from the corner of Harlem Avenue and Dukeland Street to the 700 block of Poplar Grove St., where he and community residents will hold a candlelight vigil in memory of Tony and Donnell.

"Too often the media portrays every shooting as drug-related," Ray said, claiming that Tony and Donnell came from "good stock." Their parents supported the claim. Both mothers claimed their sons were not into the drug scene, but conceded they may have had friends who were.

"Everybody can tell you about how I was preaching to that boy," Vandiver said about how she admonished her son to avoid the street corners and the wrong crowd. "But they're gonna do what they wanna do anyway." Tony's son, Antonio Jr., turned a year old the day after his father was killed.

"I had a feeling he wouldn't be here for his son's birthday," Vandiver said. "I thought he would get locked up from hanging on those corners. But I never thought he'd get killed." Tony had difficulty with his grades at Walbrook High School, but recently came home with a report card of grades mainly in the 70s and 80s, with a couple of 60s, his mom said. He never held a real job, but would help her father with roofing work from time to time.

Donnell's mother sat in her living room, where three of his wrestling trophies adorned a shelf. Above the couch, attached to the wall, was the bracket sheet from the 1995 Greyhound Wrestling Invitational, where Donnell won the 130-pound championship for the Baltimore Westsiders.

"There's so much enticement out here," Harris lamented, as another of her sons, Elbert Eckert, rummaged through a bag containing Donnell's assortment of sneakers and a pair of his wrestling shoes. "Children are so young, and they're so vulnerable."

It is up to the men, Willie Ray said, to reach those vulnerable youth. To teach an Antonio Crossley that he can indeed own his own roofing company one day. To encourage a Donnell Harris that he might use his wrestling skills to win a college scholarship and possibly become an Olympian. To warn them that the streets hold nothing for them. Nothing. Except despair, violence and death.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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