Adult's fingerprints mark teen crime scene

November 23, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

It is my understanding that at least one of the adult males played a significant role in what occurred that night," said the court-appointed attorney for the 16-year-old girl accused with the 15-year-old boy in the killing of the 17-year-old girl, apparently for her cell phone, near the North Avenue light rail stop.

James Rhodes is the attorney. He suggested that two unidentified men, passengers on the same northbound train on which the teenagers rode, instigated the killing of Nicole Edmonds.

"Adults saw the stabbing," Rhodes said, "and motivated it."

Homicide detectives disagreed and said only 16-year-old Lataye "Jasmine" King and 15-year-old Kendrick McCain were responsible for the attack.

Still, I am struck by something that approaches irony in Rhodes' suggestion that the overt actions of adults might have been behind the predatory violence of juveniles.

I agree that adults must have played a significant role in this tragedy, but not because I have particular insight into what happened on the light rail on Nov. 7 -- I wasn't there -- and not because of anything immediate and obvious.

It's what many other adults did (or didn't do) several years ago that's more apparent -- and more relevant -- than what two mystery men might have done two weeks ago.

How about the father? He apparently was never there for Lataye King.

Would you say he played a significant role in his daughter's life?

Of course not, and that's why we mention him.

And there's the mother who, according to Rhodes, abandoned the girl not once but twice.

Starting from when she was a toddler, Lataye King was raised by godparents, relatives told The Sun.

Later on, she started skipping school, something that so many city kids do that we need an army of truant officers and social workers to keep track of them.

Lataye King only completed the seventh grade.

She was declared a "Child In Need of Assistance" (CINA) by social workers in 2004, a designation that usually indicates physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect, and one of the remedies is foster care. Lataye King was in foster care for a time, then returned to her godparents' home.

It appears that in recent years she drifted from place to place. When police arrested her, she was with an adult boyfriend in Prince George's County.

The 15-year-old, Kendrick McCain, received the same CINA designation when he was a preschooler.

We don't have all the details of these declarations -- the Maryland Department of Human Resources can't share such information -- but we can safely assume that something destructive was at work in the lives of these children, and most likely something inflicted by the adults around them.

Certainly some adults tried to help -- the social workers at Child Protective Services who assessed the children and served as their advocates, for instance.

But our system of social services and child protection has been stressed for years under the weight of those large forces we for too long have been too uncomfortable to first acknowledge, then attack with fierce purpose. We have never responded to urban juvenile criminality and failure as if it were an emergency, as if lives were at stake.

Lataye King and Kendrick McCain were born into a limping-along, post-industrial Baltimore, a city boasting a renaissance and tourism, but with the highest concentration of poverty in the state, declining population, widespread drug addiction, a robust rate of incarceration among men fueled by the two-decades-old war on drugs, and resulting fatherless households and family dysfunction.

Add poorly performing schools, neglected until only recently.

This is a subculture destructive to the most vulnerable children, and we have allowed it for decades now. Until 2002, when the city started Operation Safe Kids -- one of the few bright spots among efforts to save juveniles from prison or early grave -- we accepted a certain level of losses among poor city kids, conceding that there was little we could do to change outcomes if their own families wouldn't do it. It will take generations to fix this in a profound way.

The 16-year-old and the 15-year-old accused in the killing of the 17-year-old did not appear out of thin air. I doubt they were born cruel and callous; they were not born to be predators. Their actions cannot and will not be excused.

But there are a host of defendants in the death of Nicole Edmonds; they just weren't on the train that night.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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