Mourning a young life swept away

Drowning: Family and friends remember Darryl McTier Jr. as a well-mannered 11-year-old boy with drive and dreams.

November 21, 2003|By Tanika White and Laura Vozzella | Tanika White and Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Darryl McTier Jr. stepped to the edge of the swollen stream, dipped one foot in and turned to tell friends it was safe to cross.

"Before he could finish his sentence, he just got swept away," said one of the friends, Keron Giles, 11.

As Darryl splashed in the water, his five classmates thought he was playing.

"We were laughing because we knew he wasn't going to drown or anything," Keron said. "But he kept tumbling and tumbling."

Yesterday, as relatives remembered the obedient, athletic 11-year-old who tested the waters for his pals, the five shook their heads and looked at the floor, chiding themselves for mistaking Darryl's flailing for playfulness.

"He kept trying to get back up," said Timothy Carroll, 12, "and he kept slipping. Then he disappeared."

One day after Darryl's body was pulled from Chinquapin Run, relatives, friends and teachers recalled a sixth-grader with the passions and dreams of an energetic pre-teen and the responsible manner of a young adult.

Darryl was a boy who longed to become a professional football player or a designer of video games, his parents said. He also was a hard worker who did chores for neighbors and saved his earnings. He was a kid who kept his room clean and did his laundry - without being asked.

His parents said Darryl was a good student and a good example for his kid brother and sisters: LaTria, 9; Kevin, 7; and Darra, who turned 5 the day Darryl died.

"He'd thank his mother for fixing breakfast. He'd thank me for buying him shoes," said his father, Darryl McTier Sr., 38. "And then we'd hear the chorus of, `Thank you, Mom. Thank you Daddy,' from his brother and sisters."

Unknown danger

About 2:40 p.m. Wednesday, Darryl Jr. and his friends were walking home from Chinquapin Middle School and reached a stream they hopped across all the time, near Northwood Drive and The Alameda. A storm had just blown through, and the boys hesitated at the high water.

Once Darryl fell in and his friends realized he was in trouble, the five ran off in different directions, some back to school to alert teachers, others to try to find someone with a cell phone.

Firefighters found the boy's body about 90 minutes later in neck-high water and rocks south of Woodbourne Avenue.

Yesterday at the middle school, children decorated Darryl Jr.'s locker with tributes scrawled in crayon on construction paper.

"Yo, Darryl, you got everybody crying down here," wrote Markeyss Gilbert, 11, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his gray shirt. "Hope it's better where you are than down here."

Markeyss was one of the five who walked home with Darryl, and yesterday he returned to school accompanied by his mother, Paulette Keyser. She said that her son had tossed and turned all night, and had difficulty talking about his friend's death.

Another student recalled an act of kindness by Darryl Jr. "Do you remember when I fell out of the chair?" wrote Nickole Alston, 11, in her locker farewell. "You were the only one who tried to help me."

Quiet tributes

Principal Esther Oliver gathered nearly 400 sixth-graders in the auditorium to talk about Darryl. They raised their hands to tell, in quiet voices, something they remembered about him.

"He was nice."

"He was quiet."

"We played football together."

"We walked home together."

"He was not a troublemaker."

"He was my friend."

At the McTiers' North Baltimore rowhouse yesterday, friends and relatives gathered to express their shock and sorrow. Among them was a crossing guard who had stopped Darryl Sr. once as he walked with the boy and his three siblings.

"`Excuse me. Are these your children?'" Darryl Sr. recalled the guard saying. "They stiffened up thinking they were in trouble. And she said, `These are the most well-mannered kids.'"

The guard stopped by yesterday to offer more praise - and sympathy.

"She said every morning he'd speak to her," said Darryl Sr. "He was a really special little kid."

`An overachiever'

Darryl Jr.'s parents recalled that he earned money by cutting grass, raking leaves and shoveling snow for neighbors. He once helped a contractor paint a house for two days. He found last year's snowy winter especially lucrative.

"He made $100 last year," Darryl Sr. said.

He wasn't quick to spend his earnings, saving until he had enough for a special purchase, usually a video game.

"He was a saver, even when I didn't have any money," said his mother, Joyce Johnson-McTier, 36, a nursing assistant.

"I borrowed money from him," said Darryl Sr., a renal technician.

A versatile athlete, Darryl played linebacker, running back and safety on a youth football team. He especially loved the position of running back, Darryl Sr. said.

"He felt like when he was running the ball it was him vs. 13 people," his father said. "He was definitely an overachiever."

Darryl Jr. looked for more challenges when he played games on his father's computer, installing programs that would make the games harder.

As much as he liked to play, Darryl Jr. knew that he had to work, too. He finished his homework before heading off to football practice. And once he got back home, he washed his uniform and the rest of his clothes.

"He did everything you asked him to do," his father said. "He was a very responsible child. I just wish he had stayed away from that water."

Funeral arrangements, being handled by the Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Service, 4905 York Road, are pending.

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