Woman fatally shot outside church She was taking her daughter, others to day care center

July 09, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Dail Willis and Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

A woman dropping off her 3-year-old child and four other youngsters at a day care center was shot and killed outside an East Baltimore church yesterday just moments after a priest opened the doors for morning Mass.

Baltimore police said Shara Gaylord, 30, was shot once in the head minutes before 8 a.m. as she stepped out of a Jeep Cherokee parked in a driveway near the front doors of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church.

"This is one of the most senseless acts that I have seen in many years," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, hours before he planned to meet with the church's priest, who saw a man he believes was the gunman and then heard the shots.

The Rev. William L. Norvel, along with a handful of parishioners who had braved a driving rain to attend services at the church at North Caroline and East Oliver streets, rushed to Gaylord's aid. "She had a pulse," the priest said.

But the Randallstown woman died two hours later at Johns Hopkins Hospital, becoming the 161st murder victim this year in Baltimore. Two blocks away, Jermaine Jordan, 15, had been fatally shot Sunday, allegedly by a 77-year-old man who was angry about a brick thrown at his car.

Detectives reported no suspects or motive in Gaylord's slaying, though they said they were exploring the possibility it was domestic.

"It tells us how cheap life has become," Norvel said of the killing, standing behind yellow crime scene tape that blocked the ornate doors of the church. "Our society is sick. The community has to take charge."

St. Francis Xavier is in one of the most violent city neighborhoods, and Norvel said he is tired of seeing bloodshed. He said his Sunday sermon will focus on family values.

"We are a community of African-Americans who have to strengthen our family structure," Norvel said. "I am going to talk about the sanctity of life. We have people here who have no concept of what life is."

Gaylord, who worked at the day care center as a family services coordinator for Project Head Start, arrived at the parish center shortly before 8 a.m. She pulled into a narrow driveway and parked, her back tires on the sidewalk.

Two young children got out of the Jeep and walked into the parish center. Then, police said, Gaylord got out and was shot at close range by a gunman who had run across the street. Three other children, including Gaylord's 3-year-old daughter, Semaj, and the victim's aunt, were in the car.

"I was about to open the front doors for Mass and I saw a man running across the street," Norvel recalled. "I didn't pay any attention. I turned and walked in and then I heard two shots."

The day care center, which attracts about 30 children in the summer and more than 200 when school is in session, was closed yesterday. A sign hung outside the door read: "Sorry for the short notice."

Parents and children arrived as police conducted their investigation, a large puddle of blood still visible near the car. "My heart just goes out to Shara," said Jacquelyn Brown, walking by with her daughter, who attends the day care.

Arlette Covington, who lives nearby and knew Gaylord, said she heard the shots and ran out of her house. "I just saw her lying there," she said. "She couldn't say anything. She would do anything for anybody. She was a sweet person."

Relatives of Gaylord could not be reached yesterday. There was no answer at Gaylord's home in the Fox Ridge townhouse development near Randallstown in Baltimore County, where she lived with her mother for more than a year.

"They're friendly -- they always had the kids playing in the yard," said Heidi Creamer, who lives in a townhouse next door to the Gaylord household.

Just last month, Gaylord's family threw her a surprise 30th birthday party, and neighbors recalled relatives and friends carrying balloons and cake inside the house. "They're family people, and they're quiet," said Shirley Johnson.

But Gaylord had problems. A former boyfriend and father of one of Gaylord's children had been involved in a bitter custody battle with her.

The two sued each other over custody of a little girl. In April, the father filed criminal charges of assault and illegal taping of a telephone conversation against Gaylord. In June, Gaylord was granted a restraining order by a circuit judge to keep the child's father away.

Gaylord and her ex-boyfriend had been scheduled to appear yesterday in Baltimore District Court for a trial on the criminal charges against her.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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