Violence catches up with promising youth

Struggle: Steven Henderson, 17, who was shot to death during an apparent robbery, had worked hard to avoid getting involved in the violence of the streets.

June 29, 1999|By Peter Hermann and Zerline A. Hughes | Peter Hermann and Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Steven Richard Henderson Jr. had plenty of opportunities to fail. He had trouble checking his anger. He hung out with the wrong crowd. He got suspended from school for squirting a girl with water from the window of a bus.

But his father, teachers and principal were determined to keep the 17-year-old Northeast Baltimore youth on track. They put him in a program for at-risk students. They encouraged him to play basketball. They persuaded him not to quit Northern High School.

Wednesday night, the teen-ager who worked hard to avoid the trappings of violent city streets was shot to death during what police said appears to have been a robbery four blocks from his Cedonia home.

"It just seems so unfair," said Northern's principal, Helena Nobles-Jones. "He was a child who was turning the corner. It was just when he was at a point of a rude awakening for himself. He had a feel for where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do."

Henderson, who by age 15 was more than 6 feet tall and on the varsity basketball team, had a good chance of playing ball in college, his coach said.

His funeral will be at 6: 30 p.m. today at New Mount Hebron Baptist Church on West North Avenue.

"When all these young people are trying to do something, they get shot. Why?" asked the young man's sister, Nikia Nichols, 21. "The people that are bad, nobody bothers them. You're not only hurting [Henderson], you're hurting the people that love him."

Henderson was shot in the chest as he walked home from a summer basketball league game about 10: 30 p.m. Wednesday night. Police said he and two other teen-agers had just bought candy at a 7-Eleven and were approached by two men, one of them armed, in the 5400 block of Bucknell Road.

Police said the young men ran from the gunman but that Henderson turned and was shot. He died a short time later at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Detective Dave Peckoo of the homicide unit said Henderson had only pocket change when he was held up and "didn't get a chance to take his money out." No arrests have been made.

Philip "Manny" Eldridge Jr., 17, said he was with Henderson, his cousin, when he was shot. "One guy came up on us and asked for our money," he said. "There was another guy, but he stood down the street. When we saw the gun, we all ran. Steven got shot and he kept running."

Baltimore has recorded 120 killings this year, 33 fewer than the 153 that had been reported at the same time last year. He was the fifth 17-year-old killed this year and the second teen-ager killed last week.

The city has been struggling to cut its homicide total, which has reached 300 or more in each of the past nine years. Last year, Baltimore was the nation's fourth-deadliest city.

This month, the city recorded three killings in a 13-day period, but six people were killed from Wednesday through Saturday, including Angus Michael Brown, 14, who was stabbed during a robbery in Hampden Saturday night. No arrests have been made in that case.

Henderson grew up in the quiet community of Cedonia, an enclave of single-family homes with grassy lots in Northeast Baltimore. "There hasn't been any violent crime in that neighborhood in quite a while," said Maj. Arthur Smith, commander of the Northeastern District.

Although Henderson grew up in a community resembling suburbia, he had to deal with the troubling aspects of city life. His family lamented that the city has closed local recreation centers and wrote the mayor hoping to find new outlets for neighborhood youths.

Henderson attended Northern, one of the city's most troubled schools in 1997 and 1998. The former principal made national news by suspending 1,200 unruly students in November 1997 and permanently expelling 50, including many suspected gang members, two months later.

Two of Henderson's classmates were killed last year, including 15-year-old Wayne Martin Rabb Jr., who was allegedly shot by one of the expelled students in revenge for a month-old dispute over spilled milk in the high school cafeteria.

Police said yesterday that Henderson might have threatened the sister of the young man accused in Rabb's killing. But Peckoo said he has no idea whether the high school incident is related to Wednesday's killing. He said the two teen-agers who were with Henderson when he was killed said they had never seen the assailants before.

`Robbery is the motive'

"Right now, robbery is the motive," the detective said.

Henderson spent the first part of his high school career in the frightening atmosphere of a school considered out of control. But teachers saw a student with potential, different from the hooligans who had made Northern the lead crime story on the nightly news.

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