The shootings started shortly after someone stepped on Marvin Lee Murray's foot at a party in January.
Over the next seven months, two warring street groups would exchange retaliatory gunfire, killing three young men and leaving four more people wounded in a series of shootings that littered Baltimore streets with shell casings. City police strongly suspect the killing of a fourth person, a teen-age witness, is connected to the violence.
The two gangs deal drugs in East Baltimore - about 10 blocks apart - but the gunfights were not fueled by struggles over turf, cash or narcotics. The two sides simply detested each other, and in Baltimore, investigators said, that is excuse enough to kill.
"They are like the Hatfields and McCoys," said Sgt. Darryl Massey of the homicide unit. "They didn't even know why they hated each other so much. And now we're cleaning up after them. It's sad."
Police can reel off dozens of similar examples of men settling scores in Baltimore, with the feuds often sparked by the most trivial of reasons, an untoward look or a word of disrespect to someone's girlfriend. And once the violence begins, it feeds on itself as street gangs exchange gunfire for retaliation's sake, like armies hurling artillery shells into each other's trenches.
In one extreme example, a months-long exchange of retaliatory gunplay two years ago ended on an East Baltimore street with a mass shooting that left one dead and 11 wounded.
"Any little thing, at any little time, if they feel disrespected, [it could] push them to the point of murdering somebody," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark. "Sometimes, if you have an association with somebody who disrespected [another person], you could end up the victim."
"That's just the way, there is just a culture of violence and that's the way you handle things," Clark added.
The chain reaction of violence that began that January night with someone stepping on Marvin Lee Murray's foot is the latest instance.
The first shooting
3:34 a.m., Jan. 5, 6000 Erdman Ave.
Shortly after the New Year, a "Fashion Show" party at the Teamster's Assembly Hall on Erdman Avenue attracted a crowd that included two groups of young men from different parts of East Baltimore, police said.
One hailed from the neighborhoods around North Port Street and East Lafayette Avenue, a rundown section of boarded-up rowhouses near Baltimore Cemetery where buildings are spray-painted with the nicknames of young men killed on the streets. The area crawls with drug dealers.
The other group operated in Deaky Land - a similarly blighted area about 10 blocks away at East Eager and North Durham streets - which draws its name from a previous generation of gang members who wore DKNY clothing. In the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the neighborhood is marked by the words "Deaky Land" sprayed onto brick walls.
During the party at the Teamster's hall, someone from the Port Street crew stepped on Murray's black tennis shoe, angering the 24-year-old and his friends from Deaky Land, police said.
The argument spilled outside and moved onto a grassy median strip on Erdman Avenue, where Murray and his buddies began yelling at the Port street group about being disrespected. The Deaky Land crew aimed much of its anger at David Courts, a 20-year-old leader of the Port Street crew who was sitting in the driver's seat of a car, according to police.
Suddenly, someone yanked open Courts' door.
Courts acted quickly, opening fire with a handgun, hitting Murray in the chest and wounding another man in the leg and hand, detectives said.
Murray, of the 400 block of Linwood Ave., died on the median strip. The other victim was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Soon, Courts himself would die.
The second shooting: Deaky Land retaliates
5:55 p.m. May 28, 1700 block of N. Port St.
The next few months were quiet, Massey said, but the Deaky Land boys wanted blood and put a $5,000 bounty on members of the rival crew. In particular, the Deaky Land gang targeted the Courts brothers, David and William, 19.
The two Port Street brothers had histories of arrests and convictions on drug and handgun charges, as juveniles and adults. Most of those arrests occurred near North Port and East Lafayette, court records show.
Their uncle, Robert Epps, said the two sold drugs in the neighborhood and carried weapons to protect themselves because they never knew who might come after them.
"They said they had to have guns to keep things straight," Epps said. "You need a gun if you are in the game."
On May 28, in the late afternoon, gang members who were friends of the fallen Murray gathered in Deaky Land, police said, and plotted their revenge.
At least two young men were about to hop in a car to hunt down members of the Port Street group when 17-year-old Edwin Boyd, a senior in high school who aspired to play professional basketball, stopped by, according to police.
Asked if he wanted to help them resolve the dispute, Boyd agreed.