2 teen-agers are shot in past 2 days despite city's effort to curb violence Police commanders frustrated by murder rate

September 16, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Tavon Middleton was known for his fade-away jump shot that routinely sailed through the metal hoop at his neighborhood basketball court in Northeast Baltimore, across from Clifton Park.

Yesterday, a day after the 15-year-old was gunned down in front of his home, his friends wrote a tribute to their slain friend on the court: "R.I.P. Tavon, 1983-1998, You'll Be Missed."

It is a simple statement that speaks to a city struggling to curtail youth violence that continues, despite an ambitious initiative launched by police in January to clamp down on young offenders.

"All I can say is that it's a waste of talent," said Tony Johnson, 21, who played Tavon to a grueling 15-all tie in a pickup game Sunday. The killing was tragic, he said, but "not unusual."

About four hours after Tavon was pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital at 9: 40 p.m., Jamar Ellis, 14, was shot in the head at a 7-Eleven store parking lot in East Baltimore. Police said the teen was in critical condition and was on life-support yesterday at Hopkins.

Police said yesterday they were seeking a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old as possible suspects in the slaying.

Tavon was the 225th person killed in Baltimore this year, compared with 215 at the same time last year. The pace has frustrated police commanders who say violent crime is falling.

"To tell you the truth, I'm lost for words," said Col. Alvin A. Winkler, who heads the department's youth bureau and is a deacon at an East Baltimore church. "On every front of this city, we have to have something constructive for young people to keep them out of this kind of trouble."

In January, police launched the Youth Violence Strike Force and arrested members of one of the most violent gangs in the city in Cherry Hill. Police were hoping the indictments would be a warning to others in the city.

But 101 people under 24 -- the age police are targeting with their initiative -- have been killed in the city this year. That includes 40 victims ages 18 to 20. And of 113 people arrested on murder charges this year, more than half, 59, were 24 or younger.

"There are many factors that play into the street violence," said Col. Elbert E. Shirey, one of the patrol commanders. "There is not one single factor that you can grip on. If it was as simple as that, this would have been solved a long time ago."

Police released few details about the slaying of Tavon. Detectives said he was chased by two armed males and shot several times shortly after 9 p.m. near the basketball court in the 2900 block of Harford Road. He collapsed in the northbound lane.

A man who answered the door at his home near the court would not comment. Children who said they were Tavon's friends could not come up with a reason for the shooting, though police said it was part of a neighborhood dispute.

"There's no reason that I know of," said one youngster who declined to give his name. Some friends said Tavon attended nearby Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, but school officials said they could not find his name on their roster of registered students.

Tavon's friend Johnson remembered his basketball foe as a quiet but tenacious player who used his small size to maneuver around bigger opponents. "He wasn't a trash-talker," Johnson said, but used a sly smile "to let you know when he was upset." His fade-away jump shot went in, he said, "every time."

Jamar was shot yesterday in an unrelated incident about 2: 15 a.m. in the 7-Eleven parking lot in the 2300 block of Orleans St., about 33 blocks from his home in the 400 block of N. Highland Ave. Police could say yesterday only that two unknown men approached him and one of them shot him once in the head.

Police reported no suspects or motive.

His mother, Paulette Ellis, said doctors at Hopkins gave her son, a freshman at Patterson Park High School, a 50 percent chance of survival. "I don't know what happened," she said. "The police didn't tell me anything."

As Ellis spoke of her son, police cars with their sirens screaming sped by. "That's why I want to move from this neighborhood," she said. She added Jamar "wouldn't hurt a fly. He would fight you, but he wouldn't pull a gun."

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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