Two sought in teen's death

Young men released after being questioned about school shooting

January 19, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber and Erika Niedowski | Del Quentin Wilber and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police continued investigating yesterday the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old student outside Lake Clifton-Eastern High School and announced they were seeking two unknown assailants in the Wednesday morning killing.

Police released two young men they had held for questioning and said it is unlikely they are responsible for the shooting.

The two males, Jerome Butler, 17, and his cousin, Arthur Lee Allen, 20, were released about 2 a.m. yesterday, 17 hours after police stopped their car near the shooting scene, took them into custody and had them tested for gunfire residue.

"I don't believe they are suspects," said homicide Det. Darren Sanders. "I don't know what we're looking for. ... There were a lot of people outside. Even if they didn't see the shooting, they saw these guys running away. Right now, we're looking for witnesses."

Juan Matthews of the 5100 block of Conant Way was shot three times outside the Northeast Baltimore school around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, Sanders said.

Two men approached him, and one started firing a handgun, Sanders said. The gunshots caused dozens of students to duck for cover and scurry away as the two men fled the scene, Sanders said. Matthews died about five hours later at Johns Hopkins Hospital, becoming the first student fatally wounded on school grounds in years, officials said.

In new details released on the killing yesterday, police said that about 10 minutes after the shooting, a hall monitor saw two people who were not students leave the school and drive away in a red Chevrolet Cavalier, Sanders said. The hall monitor alerted authorities, Sanders said.

An hour later, city police stopped the car a few blocks from the school, Sanders said.

Rhonda Jackson, Butler's mother and Allen's aunt, said the two young men were innocent. Jackson, of the 1500 block of Broadway, said the two were at the school to drop off her daughter, Sherrie, a freshman.

Butler and Allen are former Lake Clifton students, Jackson said. Sherrie, 15, said the young men dropped her off moments after the shooting and all three went inside the school. She said she did not know a shooting had happened until later that day.

A few minutes after entering the school, the young men left and drove away, said the girl, who added that she was picked up by police around 6 p.m. and questioned.

Sherrie and her mother said they had no idea who shot Matthews, and police said the shooting might have resulted from mistaken identity.

"We're exploring the possibility that it might be misidentification," said Lt. Errol Etting.

Some students yesterday said the shooting might have resulted from problems Juan Matthews had with people in the Freedom Way North neighborhood off Erdman Avenue, near Archbishop Curley High School.

Police would not comment on that possibility last night but said they were pursuing dozens of leads. School officials stood by their earlier comments that the shooting apparently stemmed from a community dispute that "seeped" onto school property.

Standing outside Lake Clifton yesterday, Matthews' father, Johnny, pleaded for witnesses to call police about the slaying. "If anybody knows anything, please, for my sake and his mother's sake, get in touch with the police," said Matthews, 42.

In the school yesterday, teachers started a collection to help the family with funeral expenses. Social workers, psychologists and counselors offered students emotional support.

Russell K. Williams, a Lake Clifton administrator, described Matthews as well liked by students.

"Juan was a nice kid, funny, [he] would make the class laugh," he said. "He was a comedian, really. ... Some kids can kind of brighten up an area. He knew how to work the crowd."

Baltimore police request that anyone with information about the killing call 410-396-2100.

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