Teen's death part of trend

Boy shot on porch latest of 21 youths slain in city in '06

November 28, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

The three teenage boys were sitting on the porch, just hanging out as they always do, when a group approached them and started shooting.

Minutes later Bernard Simon, a seventh-grader who just turned 14 last month, was found inside his friends' house in the 1200 block of Shellbanks Road with gunshot wounds.

He died later Sunday night at Harbor Hospital, becoming the city's 246th homicide victim this year, and one of its youngest casualties, police said.

The killing came in a year when the number of juveniles slain - 21 people ages 17 and under - far exceeds last year's total of 13, which was the lowest since 1984. Also, a total of 21 youths under 18 have been charged in city killings this year, nearly double the number in all of 2005.

Bernard's friends, brothers who live in the Cherry Hill rowhouse, suffered less serious injuries. The 15-year-old had a graze wound to his wrist, and the 16-year-old had a graze wounds to his left hand. Both were treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Police are investigating, and no arrests have yet been made.

Standing on her porch in Cherry Hill Homes yesterday, Carletta Goff, Bernard's mother, lamented the state of her neighborhood, the city's largest public housing project with nearly 1,400 units. "It's dangerous here," said Goff, 37. "There's nothing for them to do out here. So what do they got? The streets."

Though the streets were the only playground he had, Bernard was a good kid, friends and family said yesterday, known for tumbling on the large trampoline in his neighbor's yard.

He attended Arundel Elementary/Middle School. He had had no brushes with the law. Police confirmed that the victim had no criminal record.

Those in the neighborhood said the sprawling project is home to rival youth groups --- Up the Hill, Hillside and Coppin Court - based on geography within the housing complex. Bernard and his friends were in the "Up the Hill" group, family and friends said.

The site of the shooting was empty yesterday, aside from what appeared to be bullet holes that tore through the front door and yellow crime scene tape on a nearby tree. The blue light of a police camera flashed in the distance.

Some neighborhood leaders yesterday said shootings appeared to be on the rise recently and that there is a lack of recreation opportunities for the many young people in the neighborhood.

Shirley Foulks, president of the Cherry Hill Homes tenant council, said she spoke with police yesterday, and they intend to hold a community meeting Dec. 6 to see "what we can do about this mess."

"I don't know what these young people are thinking," said Foulks, 57. "It saddens my heart. There's not enough recreation out here. We need more of that. We need more parent involvement."

Police and public officials say they have stepped up security in Cherry Hill over the past year.

Cherry Hill Homes includes 1,394 units, a mix of townhouses and garden apartments, said David Tillman, a spokesman for the city's housing department. "We've been working closely with the Baltimore Police Department over the past year," Tillman said.

Steps have included evicting about 30 residents found to be involved in criminal activity, installing eight cameras and the opening of a police substation at 910 Coppin Court. The substation opened about a month ago and is staffed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Many Cherry Hill Homes residents yesterday said it's not enough.

"I fear every day," said Tera Timmons, 46, Goff's neighbor and friend. "I just keep my children in my prayers."

Britney Jones, 16, another neighbor, said she doesn't feel safe living there. "Every other month we're going to funerals over here," she said. "It's getting worse and worse. A lot of people that I'm close to are getting killed."

Others say the real problem is the lack of recreation.

"I think the kind of crime we're facing is not unique to Cherry Hill," said Cathy McClain, 52, executive director of Cherry Hill Trust, an umbrella group for community organizations. "We don't have enough recreational opportunities for our kids so they turn to violent games, unfortunately."

Bernard was a quiet child with a knack for playing basketball and football and doing somersaults on the neighbor's oversized trampoline. Tall but thin, he had a huge appetite and sometimes cooked for his family, especially his favorites - fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.

He aspired to be a writer or singer and wrote rap songs, which he put in text messages on his cell phone.

They laughed when recalling how he used to try to dance.

"He had no rhythm," said Timmons.

Goff said she was home about 9:20 p.m. Sunday night when word on the street quickly spilled into her rowhouse that her son was shot. She thought he was downstairs playing video games.

She raced down the street to find him lying on the floor of his friends' house.

"I just want them to find out who did it and why," she said. "Why?"

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Gus Sentementes contributed to this article.

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