Boy, 14, `not that kind of kid'

Former honor student charged as an adult in fatal shooting

February 18, 1999|By Peter Hermann and Joe Mathews | Peter Hermann and Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

At home in Cherry Hill, Tyrell Taylor was known as a voracious reader and honor student who excelled at a suburban school for developmentally challenged children.

In the tough Baltimore neighborhoods where he lived and hung out, he was called "Scar," known by police as a troublemaker who stood on street corners into the wee hours of the morning.

Taylor, 14, sits in a cell at the city detention center, held without bail and charged with first-degree murder as an adult in the shooting of a man in a dispute over a girl.

"He's not that kind of kid," said Marion Taylor, who has raised Tyrell since he was a toddler. Pointing to a brief newspaper account of her grandson's arrest, she said: "It's like they're talking about a different person."

Taylor is not the youngest person to be charged with murder in Baltimore. He joins 123 juveniles between ages 14 and 17 being held in Baltimore's adult detention center, which houses 2,603.

Two 14-year-olds were charged with murder last year. Four children, ages 11, 12, 13 and 14, were charged in killings in 1997. The youngest someone can be charged as an adult in Maryland is 14.

"It's very disheartening," said LaMont W. Flanagan, the commissioner of the Baltimore City Detention Center. "Most of the violence is over females, and, of course, drugs."

Taylor's troubles began last fall, when he became too old to continue at Villa Maria School, which is run by Catholic Charities near Loch Raven in Baltimore County.

Sent to the Hannah More School in Reisterstown -- a publicly funded, private institution for children with emotional problems -- the ninth-grader drifted from the books on African-American history he loved to read and the woodcarvings he did as a hobby.

Taylor skipped classes and by December, he had stopped going. He spent nights with friends in Brooklyn. He got in trouble with police and was arrested on an unknown charge. Last month, he stopped going home.

When he was arrested Monday and charged in the shooting Feb. 9 of Robert Whitfield, 21, at Ninth and Stoll streets in Brooklyn, Taylor's grandmother said she had not seen him in a month.

"I can't tell you more than I told the police," Marion Taylor said. "I don't know everything that is going on with Tyrell."

Details of what led to the shooting were not available yesterday.

Lt. Jesse Oden, who supervises officers patrolling Cherry Hill, said Taylor's name does not appear on any gang list, such as the Round Hill Boys or the Hillside Boys. He said two officers knew him from his previous arrest and from seeing him in Brooklyn, which is next to Cherry Hill.

The Police Department's Youth Violence Strike Force has made progress in the Cherry Hill area, most notably last year's breakup of the Veronica Avenue Boys, regarded as one of the most violent groups in the city.

Taylor lived across the street from public housing with his grandmother, sister and an 18-month-old niece in a two-story rowhouse on Round Road. Two small living-room tables are packed with his trophies and woodcarvings, including one of a large heart on a pedestal.

His upstairs room is cluttered with books and videotapes, including the collection of "Roots," and Taylor said she does remember when he did not bring home an "A" from school. "I always felt he was very bright," she said.

Police said it is troubling to arrest someone so young in such a serious crime. "It's more and more frequent that we're coming upon young violent suspects," said Col. John E. Gavrilis.

In jail, Taylor will be kept from adults and will attend classes at City Jail School, designed for youngsters being held on adult criminal charges.

Flanagan said Taylor has apparently fallen into the same trap as other incarcerated youths under his control.

"They don't see education as a key to success," Flanagan said. "They are trapped in the quicksand of materialism. They don't trust adults. They have no aspiration of obtaining a comfortable life by conventional means. They are very intelligent, but they are immature and barely literate."

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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