Aiding friends ends in tragedy

Marine reservist is 2nd homicide victim in his family

June 11, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,Sun reporter

He was a fresh-out-of-boot-camp Marine reservist whose friends were as dear to him as family.

Early yesterday, Michael LaMaris Simms, 18, put his life on the line for a friend during a vicious attack, action that would lead to his death and make him the city's 134th homicide victim, as well as the second child his mother has lost to violence.

Simms' sister, Jerrisha Burton, was stabbed to death in 1998 at age 18. The man who police say killed her was only recently arrested. He sits in jail awaiting trial.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions gave the incorrect location of a stabbing that killed Michael LaMaris Simms on Sunday. The stabbing occurred on the first block of S. Chapel St. on the border of Washington Hill and Butchers Hill. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

The family now must deal with another death. Another homicide investigation. And more heartache.

"He's 18, and 'Risha was 18," said Cherand Monroe, referring to the age at which her son and daughter died. "That's a bad number. Not good. Not for me, anyway."

Simms was with two male friends in the first block of S. Chapel St. in Fells Point when two assailants - armed with a knife and a shovel - approached them about 1:55 a.m. yesterday, police said.

During the attack, Simms intervened and was stabbed in the left side of his chest, police said. His 18-year-old and 22-year-old friends were also stabbed - one in the arms and hands and the other in the neck.

The three victims were taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Simms was pronounced dead, said Agent Donny Moses, a city police spokesman. Simms' friends, whom police did not identify because they are witnesses to a crime, are expected to survive, he said.

Yesterday's attack was the continuation of an assault Saturday afternoon on one of Simms' friends, police said. Simms was not involved in the initial assault, the location of which was not known to police, Moses said.

"Right now we are looking for two suspects," Moses said, referring to the homicide investigation. "We do have leads and hope to have this solved very soon."

Simms' family waited nearly a decade for that sort of closure after the death of his older sister.

In January, police charged Ernest Rivers, 39, with first-degree murder in the slaying of the young woman, who was found in her grandmother's car with multiple stab wounds to her upper torso.

Rivers' trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 27, according to city court records.

Yesterday, family and friends gathered at Simms' home in Perring Loch in Northeast Baltimore and spoke of a young man who was coming into his own and becoming more independent while still keeping close ties with relatives and friends.

A 2006 graduate of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Simms signed up for the Marines in October, the day after he turned 18, his family said.

At the time, Simms believed that the military would be his ticket to college and, eventually, a career as a graphic artist.

From boot camp he wrote about mess hall meals. "Mommy, it's not your cooking but it's good food," he told his mother.

He also gave her a photo of himself in his Marine uniform. On the back he drew hearts and wrote: "Mommy, I owe everything to you. You may be proud to have a Marine as a son, but I'm proud to have the coolest mother in the world."

Simms graduated from boot camp in February, his family said, and returned to Baltimore a more focused young man. He had only recently completed specialized training in Virginia.

On May 24, he joined the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, a reserve unit based in Baltimore. Simms served as a cook for the unit. He also worked at a local Royal Farms convenience store, his family said. He was also expecting to receive more military training.

"When he came home [from boot camp] he was really proud of what he'd done," said his father, Dwon Simms. "My pride was not that he was a Marine but that he made good decisions. Even down to his last. He made a decision to help his friend. It just hurt him to do it."

Simms' friends were also making more grown-up decisions, some of them moving to new neighborhoods across the city, said his father. But his son did his best to keep in touch with them.

"When he made friends, he kept friends," said Dwon Simms.

Mostly, though, his family said, Simms was a homebody, staying close to his mother and paternal grandmother, Mary Carroll.

"He was just the perfect son. He'd never been in any troubles in his life," Monroe said.

Carroll spoke of a grandson who came home after studying the Bible in a school class and came to her with questions about faith, love and friendship.

"Some things he didn't quite understand," Carroll said. "I'd get my Bible out and he'd read it to me we'd go over it and draw it out."

For his funeral services, which were pending last night, the family said they will draw strength from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

"A time to be born, a time to die, a time for all things," said LaVern King, a family friend, reciting part of the well-known Bible verse. "I wrote Jerrisha's obituary, and I'm going to write Michael's. I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. His life was just beginning."

"My son. I didn't see him long enough," Monroe said, looking at the picture of her youngest child. "He's supposed to be here."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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