Vigil held at church near fatal shooting

Participants call for end to violence, drug dealing in Park Heights section

January 14, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Outside a stately church on the Park Heights block where 16-year-old Melvin "Dude" Williams was fatally shot this month, more than 200 people gathered last night calling for an end to the violence and drug dealing that rules the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood.

The hourlong vigil, called in the wake of a double shooting Jan. 4 that left Williams dead and another teen-ager badly wounded, was held outside Good Shepherd Baptist Church on Park Heights Avenue and featured several speakers.

The Rev. Frank Branch III, pastor of Good Shepherd, encouraged onlookers to do more than show up for a vigil - to change their community for the better by reporting drug dealers to the police.

"I am determined to clean up our block of Park Heights," Branch said of the area where his church is located. "Park Heights has not always been like this, so we need to take it back. Don't wait for other people to do for you what you can do yourself. The police and mayor's office can't do everything."

Branch urged the crowd to report drug dealers to police or anonymously leave names of drug dealers in a church drop box so that church officials can report them.

"You have to come to the conclusion that `I am tired of young brothers being killed, and I am tired of the drug dealing,'" Branch said from a podium near the front doors.

Williams' killing is unsolved and, while the theme of the vigil was ending drug sales and the violence that goes with it, no one spoke about a motive for the teen-ager's killing. Williams' mother said she didn't know why her son was shot.

"He grew up in this neighborhood, he had a lot of friends in this neighborhood and I don't know why someone would kill him," said Gloria Shaw.

When Shaw was pregnant with Williams and unsure of the baby's gender, a cousin told her she was having a dude - meaning a boy. After having Williams, Shaw nicknamed him Dude. She and other family members wore white T-shirts that read, "RIP Dude," with a picture of him.

Arturio Daniel Davis, 15, who was wounded, is hospitalized.

Jessie Snead said she knew Melvin Williams and spoke to him the day before he was killed, urging the youth to go to school. After the shooting, Snead called for the vigil hoping it would help her community heal. Looking out over the crowd that spilled into the street, Snead said she felt the community was off to a good start.

"I didn't know what response we would have for the vigil, but I had an idea it would be good," Snead said. "This is overwhelming. I'm pleased. We need to build from this now."

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