`She was trying to do the best she could'

Teen mother killed in E. Baltimore, city's 1st homicide of year

January 05, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Two family photographs tell the story of Clarissa Ward.

One picture shows Clarissa as a first-grader, her pigtails hanging in several directions and a huge smile spreading across her face. The other shows her this summer - at age 17 - looking intently at her young son, cradled in her arms, connected to life through tubes jutting from his body.

She even dreamed of becoming a nurse to better care for 13-month-old Tyquan, who has been treated for heart problems most of his life. But her hopes ended suddenly about 12:20 a.m. yesterday while she was taking down Christmas lights from her porch in East Baltimore, police said.

Shot during an apparent robbery attempt, the mother of two became the city's first homicide of the year.

She was talking to someone relatives described as a casual acquaintance, Darnell Chambers, 26, when a man walked up to the house in the 2900 block of E. Madison St. and pulled out a gun, police said. The gunman, clad in a puffy black coat and wearing a skullcap, told the two to sit down on the steps, police said.

Clarissa panicked and ran toward the front door of the rowhouse, where she lived with her mother, police said.

The gunman opened fire, hitting Clarissa in the back of the head and Chambers in the left forearm, police said. Both were rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital, about a mile away, where Clarissa died and Chambers was treated and released.

Police were interviewing witnesses last night.

In just a few days, Clarissa was scheduled to meet with doctors at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, where Tyquan has been treated for the past few months, to see when she might take her son home, relatives said.

"She has been learning how to care for him," said Clarissa's grandmother, Beverly Chase. "She was really excited about it because he's been sick for so long. We didn't think he was going to live this long. She was really excited after what we all went through."

Born and raised in Baltimore, Clarissa most recently attended the city's Paquin School for pregnant girls but withdrew in late 2000, school officials said.

Her sick son took too much of her time to attend school, relatives said, and the birth of her second child, a daughter she named Jada, four months ago had consumed even more.

"She was trying to do the best she could," said Clarissa's mother, Tammy Baker.

Clarissa had never been a fan of school but was known as a "jolly" kid who loved music and dancing. She also wasn't afraid to buck the rules, family members said.

Several winters ago, Chase walked with Clarissa every morning to a Mass Transit Administration bus stop for the ride to Patterson Park High School. Chase would wait, make sure Clarissa got on the bus and then leave.

Three weeks later, Chase learned that Clarissa got off at the next stop and played hooky all day.

"She was determined," Chase said. "She was going to do it her way."

Clarissa's carefree spirit waned after she became pregnant with Tyquan and, especially, after his birth.

He was born two months premature and had severe heart problems, requiring constant hospitalization and surgery, relatives said.

"She went through phases of crying," her mother said. "She was depressed."

But Clarissa pressed on, visiting Tyquan almost every day at hospitals and slowly gaining an appreciation for nursing.

"That's what she wanted to do," said Chase, her grandmother.

Then, in August, Clarissa gave birth to Jada and began feeling better - once again resembling the smiling youngster in her first-grade photograph.

"That photo shows it all," Chase said. "That's what she was like. ... Jada brought back to her life what she missed with her first child."

Clarissa's room was messy, like the typical teen-ager's. But clothes strewn across the floor and bed were not just her own - they were infant garments.

A stroller was tucked next to a television set. A crib occupied another corner.

Clarissa also made two small notes of Baltimore's violence - taping two funeral programs of friends onto her mirror. Both were killed in East Baltimore in the past two years.

Family members said they had called police and city officials in the months leading up to the shooting to complain about drug dealing across the street and crime in the area.

"Someone had to get killed before they do anything about it," Chase said. "I hope three, four, five more don't have to die."

The Eastern District is one of the city's most dangerous, though violent crime has plummeted there in the past two years by 25 percent. Last year, 38 people were killed, and 145 were shot.

Anyone with information about the killing is urged to call Detective Darren Sanders of the homicide unit at 410-396-2100.

Funeral arrangements for Clarissa had not been completed late yesterday.

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