Members of Episcopal church remember young lives cut short in Baltimore

Candles burn for 32 victims

January 02, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

The Rev. Jan E. Hamill began with Ronny Martin. Then Kristopher Reinhard. Next, Kayla Baker. When she was finished listing the children killed in Baltimore last year, the Episcopal priest had read 32 names.

The youngest was Zion Clemmons, a 4-month-old boy who police say was killed by a caregiver.

Another name read during the New Year's Day service at the Cathedral of the Incarnation was Jason E. Sanders, a 17-year-old shot, according to police, by his 15-year-old brother.

"Each of the 32 matter to us, whether the story of their life is known to us or not," Hamill told several dozen congregants yesterday morning. "Each of those children was loved and cherished by God. The very least we can do is lift up their names."

Members of the church light candles for young homicide victims in the city each Sunday, after they hear or read about their deaths. The candles remain on the altar in the back of the sanctuary until New Year's Day, when the victims' names are read and the congregants bring the candles to the altar and extinguish the lights. This year, they lit 11 more candles than they had the year before.

The tradition began after the 1997 death of James Smith III, a 3-year-old who was shot as he sat with his mother waiting for his birthday haircut in a Baltimore barbershop. The next year, the church founded the Children's Peace Center, where children come for Saturday enrichment programs to learn about art and self-expression. The center also runs after-school programs and summer camps.

"We said, `We have to do more than light candles,'" said Dorris McElroy, a church member active with the Peace Center who attended yesterday's service.

"This [service] means a great deal to me - the reverence for the lives of the children in this city, the connections with the Holy Innocents," said McElroy.

Hamill said that the list comes from news articles. But she notes that the church's list and the city police tallies rarely match. The church includes victims who are 18 years old and younger. Police count children 17 years old and younger as juveniles.

"Some of us have 18-year-olds. They are still children to us," said Hamill.

As of mid-December, according to police records, there were 28 homicide victims under the age of 18. As of Sunday, there were 274 homicide victims in 2006.

Ronny Martin, the first name mentioned during yesterday's service, was a 16-year-old who was shot in a parked car on New Year's Day last year.

Next was Kristopher Reinhard. The 16-year-old Morrell Park boy was stabbed, along with two friends, in a fight Jan. 12.

On Jan. 22, 12-year-old Kayla Baker was shot, allegedly by her mother's boyfriend, in her Northern Baltimore home. Four others, including her mother, were also shot.

Some of the killings, such as the July stabbing of 11-year-old Irvin J. Harris, allegedly by a convicted child sex offender, drew media attention and public outcry. Others, including the June death of Ja'Niya E. Williams, a 4-year-old girl who was raped and beaten to death, allegedly by a 15-year-old cousin, seemed to go unnoticed.

It didn't appear that any of the victims' relatives attended yesterday's memorial. But the prayer-filled service was emotional, nonetheless.

McElroy was one of several church members clutching tissues and wiping tears. "I have seven grandchildren," she said after the service. "It always makes me cry."

Hamill said the service was also a chance to invite congregants to strive to make a difference in other people's lives. And, she said, "It's a chance to begin again - to say, `Let's do something different this year.'"

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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