Aided By Instinct

A city girl of 16 helps a stranger, 13, to safety after the younger girl is hit by a stray bullet from what police suspect was a gang clash

April 24, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN REPORTER

Angel Burrell and Keonya Christian-Cannon didn't know each other until one girl helped save the other's life.

As Christian-Cannon walked by a West Baltimore park, near Harlem and Braddish avenues, a fight - possibly over gang turf - broke out among several young people Friday afternoon. Someone pulled a gun and sprayed the street with bullets. Dozens of yards away, police said, a stray bullet hit the 13-year-old in her abdomen.

A half-block away, Burrell had just gotten off a bus when she heard gunshots and saw a girl running toward her, "bleeding from her shirt. ... I asked her if she was OK. She said no."

Burrell, 16, said she swung Christian-Cannon's arm over her shoulder and helped carry her to the girl's home around the corner on Arunah Avenue. She took off her own blue jacket and used it to keep pressure on the wound - a technique she remembered learning in a seventh-grade first-aid class.

It was a simple, compassionate act from one teenager to another, in a city where shootings and homicides remain all too common, and where few bystanders wish to get involved.

Christian-Cannon underwent hours of surgery Friday, and her parents said yesterday that her liver, kidney and pancreas were damaged. Her gall bladder had to be removed. The single bullet remains in her body, her parents said, and she likely will be hospitalized for at least three to four weeks. She was listed in critical condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"She's such a wonderful child," said Sheila Christian-Cannon, her mother. "Something's got to be done about these kids and guns."

The toll of gang violence continues to be felt on the streets of Baltimore. City police and residents in some neighborhoods are grappling with an emerging threat of gangs whose members are emulating counterparts in other cities, such as Los Angeles, where groups such as the Bloods and Crips originated.

A police spokesman said the fight that led to the shooting of Christian-Cannon stemmed from a dispute between juveniles or young men who might have been Bloods and Crips gang members. Spokesman Matt Jablow said police had put additional manpower in the area three weeks before the shooting, to deal with crime issues.

Moments before the shooting, police officers had arrested a juvenile in the area. They were driving toward the neighborhood where the shooting occurred when the gunfire erupted, Jablow said. "We've had [an] operations squad in that area morning, noon and night," the spokesman said.

Homicides and shootings remain stubbornly high in Baltimore, and police attribute some of the violence to ever-evolving gang rivalries that are often fueled by the drug trade. Through yesterday afternoon, 82 people had been victims of homicide in the city, compared with 85 victims for the same period last year, police said.

Nearly all have died from bullets fired with handguns, police records show.

Nonfatal shootings have spiked 25 percent. There have been 39 more victims of nonfatal shootings in Baltimore this year, with 192 people getting shot and surviving, according to police statistics through April 14. Last year, there were 153 victims during the same period.

Christian-Cannon was the latest young girl struck by gunfire in the past month. On April 12, two 15-year-old girls were among three innocent victims shot while standing on a sidewalk in East Baltimore. Police believe a 20-year-old man was targeted in a dispute over a jacket, and they arrested a man in an attack.

On March 30, Estefany Gonzalez, 16, was killed in an evening shooting in the O'Donnell Heights projects, in Southeast Baltimore. Police said they believe the shooter unintentionally hit her while trying to kill another man.

Christian-Cannon was shot about 3:30 on a sunny and warm spring afternoon, as many children were walking home from school. Burrell, who attends Southwest Academy for Arts and Science in Woodlawn, had just gotten off the bus and was heading home. She said she heard gunshots but didn't see who fired. She quickly helped the young victim to her home.

Paramedics began treating Christian-Cannon in her front yard. Burrell rode in the ambulance's passenger seat, accompanying a girl she didn't know to a hospital. Burrell said she had never seen anyone shot before. "It's a hard thing to see actually," Burrell said by phone yesterday, while at the hospital visiting the victim.

At Christian-Cannon's home on Arunah Avenue yesterday, her father, Bobby Cannon, was taking a break while his wife was with their daughter at the hospital. He said they were keeping a bedside vigil in shifts, so one of them could be with her around the clock.

"I still don't actually believe this happened," Cannon said.

He said his daughter was an eighth-grader on the honor roll at Calverton Middle School, just a few blocks from their home, and was involved with church and the community. She was shot across the street from a grassy park that has a jungle gym, basketball courts and a baseball field.

According to her parents, Christian-Cannon followed the same routine every day after school: She walked home, dropped off her books and then went back out to pick up her younger brother from school. On Friday, her younger brother had stayed home from school, but Christian-Cannon walked out of her rowhouse to accompany another young neighborhood girl to a nearby school, her parents said.

She walked past her grandmother, 83-year-old Margaretta Christian, who had been sitting on the front porch. Christian said her granddaughter said she would return with her grandmother's favorite candy bar, a Milky Way.

But the next time Christian saw her granddaughter, she was clutching her abdomen in agony.

"I asked her, `Why are you crying?" Christian said. "She said, `I just got shot in the stomach.' It was terrible."

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