Gunman shoots teen outside city school

Student dies later in hospital

police question two men

January 18, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber and Liz Bowie | Del Quentin Wilber and Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

A 17-year-old student was fatally shot near the entrance of his Northeast Baltimore high school early yesterday, minutes before classes began, forcing other students to scramble for cover.

Juan Matthews of the 5100 block of Conant Way in East Baltimore was shot three times about 8:45 a.m., about 200 feet from the front doors of Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, officials said.

Matthews died at 2:42 p.m. at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a spokeswoman said.

Moments after the shooting, city police took two young men, ages 17 and 20, into custody for questioning. Police released no other details about the pair last night and said their investigation was continuing. No weapon was recovered, but the two men's hands were tested for residue to see if they had fired a weapon, police said.

After the shooting, school officials and police swarmed over the campus - the city's largest with about 2,400 students and three large wings - to calm any lingering tensions. After school, a half-dozen police officers directed traffic as streams of students walked home from the school, located on the southeast corner of Clifton Park.

The killing, the first shooting death of a student on school property that school officials can recall in years, appeared linked to a neighborhood dispute and had nothing to do with Lake Clifton, school and police officials said.

"This came from the community and spilled over here," said Barry Williams, a school system executive officer who oversees Lake Clifton.

School officials said that a crisis intervention team and additional counselors would be at Lake Clifton today and that police would step up patrols at the school.

Carmen V. Russo, chief executive officer of the city schools, plans to arrive at Lake Clifton at 8 a.m. today.

"Our condolences go to the family," Russo said when reached by phone. "He was 17, and that has to be very hard for the parents and those who knew him. It's not been a good day."

Police said the shooting occurred when a gunman approached Matthews as he was walking toward the school's front doors, on the building's west side.

The gunman fired several shots point blank with what investigators believe was a .32-caliber handgun, before running around the school and jumping into a red Chevrolet, police said.

A school police officer spotted the gunman leaving the school and alerted other officers to watch for the car, police said.

Moments later, city police stopped a red Chevrolet at Sinclair Lane and Washington Street, only blocks from the school, and took two young men from the car into custody, police said.

School officials described a heated scene in the moments after the shooting. About 100 students milling about near the building when the gunshots rang out scattered, many of them running to the building for refuge.

Matthews ran into the main office.

"I heard a student in a loud voice ... `I think I have been shot,' " Irby Miller, one of the two principals at the school, said in a phone interview. "He was on his knees and then rolled onto his back."

School administrators called nurses to the office and also called for an ambulance. "He could feel the sting," Miller said, adding that nurses "cut away his garments. His white T-shirt showed a trickle of blood. ... He was talking to us. He was able to give us a name and a phone number and an address."

Some students described Matthews yesterday as quiet. School officials said the ninth-grader had no history of problems at the school.

Larry Owens, who was at the hospital and identified himself as Matthews' cousin, said the 17-year-old enjoyed video games and listening to music. "I saw him [Tuesday] " Owens said. "He wanted something to eat. ... Everything was OK."

"He was a sweet boy, quiet," his grandmother, Rosie Matthews, said in a telephone interview.

A neighbor of Matthews, Forrest List, 21, said yesterday that the student seemed like a typical 17-year-old. He sometimes saw him leave for church on Sundays. Students said the shooting surprised them but did not make them nervous because it was not random violence.

The students said that they feel safe in school but often worry about wandering into the surrounding area, which is less than three miles from Matthews' home.

"I don't think this is a safe environment," said Tamika Jenkins, 17, a junior. "Usually, I don't walk home by myself. School is safe. It's good in school. It's outside of school that you need security."

On Jan. 4, an 18-year-old man was shot in the arm about 3:45 p.m. in the 2800 block of St. Lo Drive, near the school. The victim (it's not clear if he was a student) recovered, and police have no suspects in the shooting.

In September 1997, a 20-year-old Baltimore man was killed by gunfire just off Lake Clifton's property as school let out. A year later, a former Lake Clifton student was shot and wounded while walking near the school.

School officials said Lake Clifton - which normally has four officers on patrol - is safe.

There have been 30 incidents since school began in September, ranging from fights and weapons possession to assaults on police officers and teachers.

School Police Chief Leonard Hamm said the assaults on adults often happen when they try to break up fights.

Sun staff writers Erika Niedowski and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.

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