Nikki's death stands out amid blur of statistics

November 14, 2006|By JEAN MARBELLA

The tributes flowed, from intimates and strangers alike, and some were read at Nicole Edmonds' funeral this weekend. Appreciative murmurs rippled through the mourners at the east-side church when a particularly famous name followed the "sincerely," like Martin O'Malley, the newly elected governor, or Ben Cardin, the just-minted U.S. senator.

Early on the morning of Election Day last week, when for the next 24 hours some of us were going to be breathlessly consumed by the political fortunes of O'Malley, Cardin and other candidates, "Nikki" Edmonds, 17, was fatally stabbed after getting off the light rail at West North Avenue.

In the numbing blur of Baltimore's murder statistics, she was No. 235, the slaying that would push the toll past the 234 who were killed by the same time last year. But it isn't statistics that set her death above the blur that shrouds most city murders, but rather that she was, as the police have been saying, "a completely innocent victim."

Living here, you concede a certain amount of crime. You don't excessively trouble yourself when one drug dealer or gang member or bad guy kills another, and that's how you keep Baltimore's seemingly intractable homicide rate at a remove.

And then someone like Edmonds is killed, and it is heart-sickening on so many levels there's no way to file it away under your mental index of typical drug-corner murder. She was, by her family's account, a hard-working, church-going young woman, the fourth of eight children. Her parents -- her father is a pastor, her mother works for a credit union -- had taken Nikki and her 16-year-old brother Marcus out of Frederick Douglass High School last year because it was too dangerous, and were home-schooling them.

Nikki and Marcus got jobs together at a Wendy's in Linthicum, and were returning on the light rail from a late shift when four fellow passengers followed them off at their stop. Two of them jumped and held Marcus down, while the other two ran after Nikki and stabbed her. She was taken to Shock Trauma, where she died.

The siblings weren't robbed, police say, and they didn't know their attackers. The murder of Nikki stands in stark contrast to the kind of youth crime that police generally deal with, in which the perpetrators and victims have had multiple juvenile arrests.

This year has been a particularly deadly one for young people, compared with last year. Nikki was the 20th homicide victim 17 years old or younger this year, compared with 13 in 2005 -- although police say the murder rate for that age group is still on a downward trend when you look at what was going on five and more years ago. Still, police say, they have a number of initiatives under way -- from formulating an anti-gang strategy, to trying to stem the tide of juvenile drug dealing, to enforcing the curfew to get kids off the streets -- to deal with youth crime and the violent toll that it takes.

Nikki Edmonds wasn't part of that world, according to her family -- she was active in her church, she was close to her siblings and her parents, said an older brother, Quentin, who has taken up the mantle of spokesman for the bereaved family. She was out late at night not because she was hanging with her friends; she was coming home from work with her brother.

She wasn't part of that world, and yet now, in death she is thrust into it. She becomes another statistic, another incident in the city's pathology report. It seems so unjust a fate for a girl Quentin describes as a jokester, a laugher, the sister who liked to cook so much that she took over making most of the family's Thanksgiving dinner last year.

On Saturday, it was standing room only at Nikki's funeral at Community Church of Christ. There, in a gathering both mournful and joyous -- the Edmonds family's goal was to celebrate her life -- about 250 family and friends sought comfort in song and prayer.

"Let not your heart be troubled," went one of the readings.

And yet, how can it not be?

Later that day, about a mile east of where Nikki's family and friends were giving her a rousing "home-going" service, police found the body of another young person, a 16-year-old boy, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

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