Headed for a life of misery? He'd been there all along

City Diary

February 02, 2000|By MARY JANE HARE

LAMONT JONES died of gunshot wounds Jan. 2, the city's second homicide of the new year. He had turned 16 a week earlier on Christmas Day.

I don't know why I remembered his birthday; I have not seen him for about five years. But, the date helped me determine that the murder victim was the same beautiful child I once knew.

Lamont was killed on the streets in the drug-infested neighborhood where he spent his entire life. He was pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. I wondered if he died alone, but no one could tell me

He had no immediate family. He was 10 when his mother died, leaving him in the care of a great aunt and my brother Tony, both of whom died a year later. Lamont's childhood was one of constant loss. He had no one.

Homicide detectives said they were nearly certain the shooting was drug-related. But, as yet, they have no motive or suspects

I have no idea what Lamont's life had become in the time since his distant relatives asked our family to curtail any contact with him. The police said he was no angel, that he was involved in drugs. That was inevitable, I replied.

Our family met Lamont when he was about 6. Tony worked with his mother. He often invited Lamont and his mother to our homes. I remember Lamont as a smiling, sweet boy, easily pleased, polite and quiet.

He loved the basketball net in the driveway, the swing sets in the yard and desserts on the tables. My sister and brother-in-law took him hiking near Loch Raven Reservoir. He said he had never seen so many trees in his life.

When I called detectives to inquire about the murder, they were hesitant and asked what connection I might have to an inner-city youth. Could I say that my brother once cared for the child, helped with his homework, encouraged him to go to school -- and died of alcohol poisoning in Lamont's house?

Tony was no angel, either. One of the last conversations I had with Tony was about Lamont. At 10, Lamont could barely read, and Tony was tutoring him. They read a lot of Dr. Seuss. They laughed about the rhymes and repetition

But, Tony said, Lamont's situation was hopeless. "Lamont will either be killed or in prison," he said. "He has no future."

The officer tactfully said that my brother was probably into drugs, too. Everyone in Lamont's life was involved with drugs, I said.

Actually, Tony was in a treatment program, but he would not leave that drug-infested neighborhood. I think he would not leave Lamont.

Staying involved with Lamont helped ease our grief after Tony's death. For a while, those who lived with Lamont did not mind his weekend visits with our family. We bought him a bike, toys, jeans and video games, things he kept at my sister's house. If he took them home, they would disappear.

But, eventually, his relatives did mind. They made it obvious that they did not want us to continue seeing him. We pulled back. He had phone numbers, but he never called.

Why did he slip through the cracks, I asked the homicide detective. Why didn't a teacher, a social worker, a minister pick up on this abandoned child?

"There are thousands like him," was his answer.

"A 16-year-old male was fatally shot in West Baltimore, the second person killed in Baltimore this year. Both victims were teen-age boys," said the story that ran Jan. 3.

Lamont was shot several times on Baker Street, near the home where he once lived with Tony. I am sure most who saw the brief item thought "more thugs killing each other."

Lamont was not a thug. He was a child who never had guidance, never acquired a moral compass. He went the wrong way, but he is not to be condemned.

I recently covered the death of another teen-age boy, who battled leukemia for months. His family, friends and community fought along with him. He died surrounded by love and devotion with his mother singing softly, "Go now in peace. Never be afraid. God will be with you each step of the way."

I doubt that anyone battled for Lamont, that anyone ever sang to him or that he was given even a shred of comfort as his blood poured onto on that dreadful street.

But there are some who grieve now, far from Baker Street, and wonder way too late: What should we have done?

It may seem callous, the officer said, but maybe it was a blessing Lamont died young. "He was headed for a life of misery," the officer said.

He was not headed there. He had been there his whole life.

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