Died too young

November 17, 2006

Nicole Edmonds was just trying to get home after her night shift at a Wendy's. Shawn Tiller was out on his own, having refused to live under his mother's rules. The two didn't know each other. But they share this: They are the most recent teenagers to be murdered in a city where the killers are as young as their victims.

Youth shouldn't be a gateway to death.

But it has been for 25 juveniles murdered so far this year. That's nearly double the 13 killed in the city in 2005. And in Baltimore County, juveniles are becoming more involved in violent crime than they have been in the past, accounting for more than a third of violent crime arrests, up from 20 percent last year.

While there are some gang-related murders in the city, they don't dominate the killings. A petty argument is as likely a trigger as a dispute over drug turf, which makes crafting a solution to the youth killing that much more difficult. There is no one course of action required, no one group to single out.

Strategies to identify at-risk kids and programs for them have been put in place since 2002, when 36 juveniles were killed and Mayor Martin O'Malley demanded that city leaders redouble their efforts on this front. The city has toughened its curfew law and police have enforced it rigorously - nearly 2,700 kids were taken off the street between May and September. Police have sought out the most violent youth offenders, but the easy access to guns in some areas of the city allows a novice to exact swift revenge.

Murder victims Nikki Edmonds, 17, and Shawn Tiller, 16, couldn't have been more different in how they led their lives.

She was one of eight children of two working parents who was commuting to Linthicum to work at a fast-food restaurant. On their way home Nov. 7, Nikki and her younger brother got off the light rail train at the North Avenue station and were accosted by three people, one of whom fatally stabbed her. For what? Nothing.

Shawn left home this summer. He didn't want to live under his mother's rules, and had dropped out of school and moved in with a friend. He was shot and killed in East Baltimore this past weekend, and soon after, "RIP Shawn" appeared scrawled on a building nearby.

Nikki's parents had taken her out of public school and were educating her at home; they felt her city high school was too dangerous. Shawn's mother says she tried to keep him from the streets, but he wandered nevertheless.

Two different lives, the same tragic end.

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