Good-hearted teacher devoted to children is killed in his home

Friends, family stunned at slaying of west-side man who sang while shopping

`Just a very, very nice guy'

April 03, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber and Jamil Roberts | Del Quentin Wilber and Jamil Roberts,SUN STAFF

William M. Ragner adopted a boy who was struggling in foster care. He'd let luck-starved friends spend night after night at his home. He took in a dog that had been abused by its previous owners. He constantly gave neighborhood children cash to buy food or candy.

That kindness and generosity have left friends and family members wondering why anyone would have killed the 52-year-old school teacher, who was found beaten to death late Monday at his home in the 3100 block of Leighton Ave.

"He was just a very, very nice guy," said Barbara Clemens, a neighbor. "He was always giving children a dollar for candy, food. He was the sweetest man."

Police, who released few details about the crime, said that Ragner was probably killed late Thursday or early Friday. Ragner's death comes during a spate of city homicides - 14 in the last eight days. He was the 65th person killed in Baltimore this year, six more than during the same time period in 2001.

Ragner was a second-grade teacher at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in West Baltimore, where he had taught for two years. Principal Catherine DeFord, said that he maintained good discipline in the classroom, got along well with other teachers and was willing to try new initiatives.

"It's going to be difficult to replace him," DeFord said. "He was a team player and an asset."

Loretta Williams, a third-grade teacher at Harriet Tubman, said that Ragner loved children and excelled in teaching language arts. Unlike some teachers who are focused on making sure students memorized their lessons, Ragner genuinely cared whether his pupils understood the reasoning behind the facts, she said.

"He cared about the children and what they learned," Williams said. "He wanted them to comprehend."

Besides helping children in the classroom, Ragner also took care of boys and girls in his quiet rowhouse neighborhood.

"He loved to grocery shop," said his son, James Ragner, 37, of New York City. "It soothed him."

Ragner had eclectic tastes, ranging from gospel music to gritty crime television shows. His devoted hours a week to reading the Bible and loved to sing, especially as a choir member at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore, friends said.

Sometimes, he would combine his two favorite pastimes - he would often just belt out gospel hymns while walking down the aisles of the grocery store.

Ragner and Williams often spoke on the phone, especially after a long day at school, as they watched television. Ragner's favorite show was Homicide: Life on the Streets.

"We'd laugh about how stupid the criminals were," Williams said.

Ragner grew up in North Carolina and graduated in 1974 with a degree in early childhood development from Allen University in Columbia, S.C., said James Ragner.

He worked mostly for day-care and early childhood development programs in South Carolina and New Jersey. Two decades ago, he adopted James after the boy ran away from his foster family. "He was just like that," James Ragner said. "He was good hearted. He was willing to give anyone a chance."

Suffering from lupus and bad hips, he moved to Baltimore, where his father lived, in the mid-1990s and took a job with a Head Start program before joining the city schools, James Ragner said.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night. Anyone with information about the killing is urged to call Detective Kevin Hagan at 410-396-2100.

Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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