Gang activities seen to be behind many city killings


May 01, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN REPORTER

It was late afternoon when Deputy Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III drove down a Southwest Baltimore street. He saw no hint of trouble. No open-air drug dealing. No crimes in progress.

But what happened 10 minutes later on Friday illustrates the difficult task that police face in a city where many killings have all the markings of well-planned executions. Police said a man walked out of a store and one or two people walked up to him firing guns, killing him on the street before running away.

"These guys waited on him, or hunted him down - which is a more appropriate description," Bealefeld said. "They hunted him down."

In just over 72 hours, from Friday evening to last night, eight men died in shootings and nine other people were injured by gunfire.

The most recent victims were an unidentified man who was shot just before 10 p.m. in the 1900 block of E. Lafayette Ave., and another who had been shot multiple times and left sitting in a car parked on a street in the Orchard Mews neighborhood near Martin Luther King Boulevard, city police said.

The body in the car was found about 7 p.m. in the 500 block of Half Mile Court, by Central District officers responding to a report of a shooting, police said.

Hours earlier, Mayor Sheila Dixon and Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm had announced a new anti-crime plan intended to make the city safer.

So far this year, 91 people have died in homicides - nearly all from handgun violence - compared with 88 at the same time last year. Nonfatal shootings have increased 26 percent this year when compared with last, according to statistics compiled through April 21.

Police said that a wide range of factors is contributing to the violence, from a surge in gang activity to drug turf wars.

Community leaders are concerned about the coming summer months, scrambling to make sure they can stem an apparent rise in gang recruiting with more programs and opportunities for young people. Nina Harper, executive director of East Baltimore's Oliver Community Association, said her group has put together programs for ex-offenders and is busy trying to write grant proposals and scrape together funds for youth activities.

"I think this summer is going to be key," she said. "We have to get them into jobs. We have to keep them occupied. Otherwise we're going to have a hot summer."

In addition to the eight killings, city police officers were involved in a fatal shooting early Saturday near West North Avenue and North Smallwood Street. Police said an officer stopped to investigate a gathering of suspected gang members, who were wearing red colors - the signature of the Bloods gang - when one man ran away and drew a small-caliber revolver. Police said the officer shot him several times.

Such violence remains all too common in the neighborhood, according to Ruby M. Purnell, 71, vice president of the Smallwood Street Association. But she said much of the problem is not caused by the people who live there, but rather by people who bring crime problems into the neighborhood from elsewhere.

"There are a lot of persons who are afraid to report what they see, because they're afraid of what might happen," Purnell said. "We must learn how to speak to people, to those who we do not know."

The police, Purnell said, "can't be everywhere all the time. So we have to take back our own community. That is the best way."

The eight killings since Friday involved different circumstances and different parts of the city. But several fit the pattern of Baltimore's typical homicide victim. Some had extensive criminal records and were on probation. And they all were killed with firearms.

An unidentified man was found shortly after midnight yesterday in the 3600 block of Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore. He had several bullet wounds. He was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital at 12:41 a.m., police said.

Four men were fatally shot in apparently unrelated homicides Sunday, and another was killed Friday evening. No arrests have been made in any of the killings, though police officials said they had leads in some of them.

Yesterday, police identified a man found fatally shot about 9:30 p.m. Sunday in the 300 block of S. Payson St. in the Southern District, as Leroy Sanders, 22, of the 1600 block of N. Fulton Ave.

On Friday, Bealefeld had gone to the Southwestern District station house to address police officers during roll call, and then drove the streets of the districts. He had driven down North Rosedale Street shortly after 6 p.m. and said he saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Ten minutes later, a call for a shooting in the 1600 block went out over the radio, and Bealefeld said he was back on the same block. Southwestern District officers found Dewitt Smith, 25, lying in the street, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, police said. He was transported to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he later died, police said.

"It is frustrating," said Bealefeld, who added that he's pushing detectives and patrol officers harder to try to understand the root causes of disputes that can lead to shootings, and to move quickly to make arrests.

"A lot of these [homicides] look like a designed hit," he said. "[Smith] gets essentially assassinated. There's no other word for it."

Sun reporter Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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