`This has gone too far'

Vigil: The Park Heights community unites tonight to take a stand against violence.

January 13, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Jessie Snead stepped off the city bus on Reisterstown Road in West Baltimore and noticed a familiar baby face on the opposite sidewalk, the teen-age boy she saw too often hanging out in the neighborhood.

"I saw him and I said, `Hey, boy, go to school,'" said Snead, a community activist. " ... I see these boys out here enough to talk to them and tell them to do something better, like telling them to go to school."

The next day, Jan. 4, outside Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Park Heights, 16-year-old Melvin Columbus Williams IV was gunned down. Another boy, Arturio Daniel Davis, 15, was shot four times, but survived. Williams, the boy whom Snead had spoken to, died that night.

Snead was stunned. "I knew both those boys. This is bad. It really hurts," she said, adding that the teens were friends with her granddaughters. "These boys are so young. A life is a life no matter how old you are."

Feeling almost the way she did in 1993 when she joined a survivors' group after her son was murdered, Snead was moved by the double shooting to do something to help her community heal.

In a matter of days, she organized a community vigil, which will be held at 6 p.m. today outside Good Shepherd, 3459 Park Heights Ave.

A bullet hole in the door of the St. Ambrose Family Outreach Center next to the church will be part of the backdrop for the vigil, a fresh reminder of the shooting and why today's event is necessary, Snead said.

"I just thought it was time for the community to come together," Snead said, "because this has gone too far."

This community along Park Heights Avenue is reeling from the shootings of such young victims. The vigil will focus on reaching and nurturing children who are increasingly targets of violence.

Last year, 35 juveniles were killed in the city compared with 18 in 2001.

Because Williams and Davis were shot near a church, the vigil should be somewhat spiritual, said Delores Holland, director of Christian education at Good Shepherd. Holland is helping Snead organize the event.

"It's unfortunate that it is something tragic that has to bring the church and community together," Holland said. "But we see it as something positive coming out of something negative."

Community leaders, police, school officials, politicians and ministers have been invited to attend and speak at the event.

Snead said she is asking leaders of community groups to bring fliers to the vigil promoting their organizations so residents know where to go for help.

Snead will bring plenty of literature from her group SAVE - Survivors Against Violence Everywhere. Her son, Terrance R. Thompson, 26, was fatally shot in 1993 with another man, in what was one of Baltimore's deadliest years.

Although her son and friend were older victims, Snead said the shooting of two teen-agers in her neighborhood brought back tearful memories.

"They just reminded me of my son because they are all so young," she said. "We want our children to live in peace, not rest in peace. But we as adults have to let them know that there's more to life than to think your life expectancy can only be a certain amount of few years."

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