A 2-year-old boy trying to retrieve a toy was accidentally shot in the head and critically wounded yesterday, police said, when he stepped out the front door of his East Baltimore rowhouse and was hit by a stray bullet.
The toddler, Carlos Woods, was being treated at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, where his family kept a close, anxious vigil and doctors worked frantically to save the youngster's life. Hospital officials said he was in critical condition last night.
Just before 6 p.m. yesterday, heavily armed officers stormed a rowhouse in the 1700 block of N. Durham St. They used a stun grenade to create a diversion, and a suspect was taken into custody. He was being questioned last night.
The violence that injured Carlos, police said, was the latest in a three-day string of shootings in East and West Baltimore - each one retribution for a previous incident.
Angry, tearful neighbors crowded around Carlos' rowhouse in the 1800 block of N. Chapel St. - a narrow alley street barely wide enough for one car - and hugged each other.
"That boy was right where he was supposed to be - at his house," said Gloria Foster, 42, who lives a few doors away. "You can't get no safer than that."
Carlos lived in the house with his mother, Karen Johnson, and other relatives. Family members at the hospital declined to comment yesterday, and it could not be learned immediately whether he has any siblings.
The toddler's great-uncle, Warren Johnson, 49, said the violence on city streets numbs the senses.
"It is so prevalent around here that you have to be on your guard every moment," he said. "You never know when a bullet is going to fly by."
Police said Carlos was hit by one of four bullets fired about 10 a.m. from a car and aimed at a man who ran when the gunfire started. Detectives said that the intended target, hit once in the thigh, dived into the door that Carlos had just opened and that one of the bullets hit the boy as he stood on the top of his steps.
"It's a horrible tragedy," Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said. "This bothers you more than most. ... Here, the victim happens to be 2 years old. It doesn't get any worse than that."
Norris said the gunman, firing a powerful .45-caliber handgun from an aqua or light blue Dodge Shadow, might have targeted Darryl Hairston, 20, to retaliate for a shooting on Thursday at a West Baltimore lounge that left a man critically wounded.
"It indicates how violent our criminals are," Norris said. "This may have been retribution for something that happened yesterday."
In Thursday's shooting, Jason Torbit, 19, was hit three times in the chest while inside Yummy Package Goods and Lounge in the 2100 block of Pennsylvania Ave. He was in critical condition at Hopkins yesterday.
Investigators said that they believe the lounge shooting was in retaliation for a shooting on Wednesday in the 1800 block of E. Eager St. that left a man slightly wounded.
Homicide detectives were trying last night to understand what has happened this week on two sides of the city. No one has been arrested in the three shootings.
Yesterday, about two dozen officers, including the Eastern District commander and the major in charge of the homicide squad, went to the chaotic scene in the Broadway East neighborhood.
The incident apparently happened so quickly that no one got the license plate number of the gunman's car. The child's mother was inside the house. Witnesses said the two-door Dodge had two male occupants, but it wasn't clear whether the shooter was the driver or passenger.
A police officer was driving north on Chapel Street and heard the gunshots but did not make it to the house in time to get a close look at the car. Officers recovered four .45-caliber shell casings from the street, but had not located the car by last night.
At one point, the large crowd pressed against police line tape, close to the ambulance with the toddler, prompting an officer to scream: "Please clear the street so we can get this baby out of here."
Residents pressed closer to learn the identity. One shouted, "How old is the baby?"
Clara Johnson, 58, the toddler's great-grandmother, rushed to the street after getting a frantic phone call from a relative. "Oh God!" she wailed as she walked away from the scene, her head buried in her hands.
"He is a good little boy," said Johnson, who recalled visiting him Monday and giving him a present - a toy white rabbit.
An hour after the shooting, officers got a tip that the gunman was possibly hiding in a rowhouse on the same street. They cleared the block and called members of the tactical unit. The tip proved false.
Chapel Street is in the heart of one of the city's most troubled areas, where police have flooded neighborhoods since August with an extra 120 officers. They have reported success in lowering shootings and homicides.