Parents hold vigil for slain teen son

Questions remain since Darien Ward's death one year ago

January 09, 2000|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

On the first anniversary of Darien Ward's killing, about 25 people holding candles and carrying signs that said "Thou shalt not kill" lined up on a chilly street corner to remember him last night.

His parents were there. So were a few friends, a group of Quakers crusading against guns and the murder of children, and a Baltimore science teacher who has grown tired of losing his students to violence.

"Five kids I taught were killed in 1999," said biology teacher Warren Wiggins. Darien Ward, 15, was the first of his students killed. "I'm out here because I just feel we all have a responsibility to make people aware of things like this."

William and Beverly Ward organized the vigil in their former Northeast Baltimore neighborhood to honor their son.

They also intended to send a message to a city that they believe has become numbed to such tragedy.

"We're doing this for the people who are not taking care of their children," said William Ward, 48, a cook at Maryland General Hospital. "We took care of Darien. But the one who done this wasn't brought up right.

"We're saying, `Live for your children. Don't live for yourself.' And for the children: `Stay focused and avoid peer pressure.' "

Darien Ward was described by his family and police as the kind of teen-ager who was not supposed to die alone in the dark of a gunshot wound. The youngest child of watchful, church-going parents, he was a serious student who brought home good grades; a football player whose coach praised his character. He ushered at his church, volunteered at a nursing home, planned to attend college.

A year after his death last Jan. 8, his parents are tormented by two mysteries: Who shot him? And could he have been saved if police officers who responded had not immediately cordoned the crime scene, blocking paramedics from examining his body for more than 10 minutes?

"I don't know how long my son was laying there on an icy night," said Beverly Ward, 49, a former nursing home worker. "It's every parent's nightmare, and it could happen to anyone. Any one of us could walk out our door today and be gone."

Two investigations remain open involving Darien's death: the homicide detectives' search for his killer, and a separate internal police probe into allegations that the sergeant on the scene violated department policy, which allows police to declare people dead only in obvious cases, such as a decapitation.

Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a police spokeswoman, said the investigation into the sergeant's actions is still open and she could not comment on it. The sergeant, who has not been named, remains on active duty.

"They say the case has gone cold," William Ward said. "To us, it was just like his life didn't matter. It's just more or less, `Another dead one. Take him away.'

"It's like they assume everybody was a drug dealer and everything's got to be drug-related. But everything's not drug-related and not every child is `out there.' "

Beverly Ward keeps a scrapbook: 3-year-old Darien in a pirate's hat. A quiz from one of his freshman classes at Patterson High, with a big "A-" across the top. The football roster for the Patterson High Clippers, listing Darien's vital statistics -- 5 feet 10 inches, 240 pounds, offensive and defensive tackle, No. 54. A condolence letter from his coach, praising his "reliability, leadership and dedication."

"He was the kind of boy who would make you laugh if you were down," said his father, his eyes brimming with tears. "He couldn't stand to see anybody sad."

His parents know that on the night Darien died, he had rented a game from a video store and was looking forward to playing it. About 8: 30 p.m., a relative, a boy about Darien's age, called asking to spend the night. The Wards agreed and went upstairs to watch television.

Shortly after 10 p.m., the phone rang. It was the other boy's mother, telling them her son had run home crying that Darien had been shot.

The Wards said the other boy reported that he and Darien went out for Chinese food. At Belair Road and Seidel Avenue, they were confronted by two ski-masked men. The Wards were told that one of the men pulled a knife and the other boy knocked it from his hand and then ran, hearing a shot behind him.

About 9: 45 p.m., a passer-by saw Darien's body, walked to a convenience store and told a police officer.

A police sergeant checked the boy's pulse, declared him dead and surrounded his body with yellow crime-scene tape.

When firefighters arrived at 9: 59 p.m., they were not allowed to cross the tape. Eleven minutes after the first rescue worker arrived, a paramedic was given access to the body and pronounced Ward dead.

Ward had a severe upper body wound and his chances of survival were slim, a firefighters' union official said at the time. But police and fire department leaders agreed that paramedics should have had quick access to his body.

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