Teen found dead at school is identified

June 14, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

The young woman walked a difficult path in life.

She was 18. And like many of the city's homicide victims, Barbara Griffin got into trouble with the law. But she also went to a church where her pastor said the congregation tried to steer her in a new direction.

Griffin was found dead Monday morning with gunshot wounds to the head. Her body lay in a courtyard at Bentalou Elementary School, miles from her East Monument Street home, and she was not identified until yesterday -- one of two teenage homicide victims this week. A third teenager was on life support after a shooting.

The Rev. Milton E. Williams had known Griffin for 10 years, and he shed tears yesterday as he talked about her family and violence in Baltimore.

"There is an ongoing misery in this city," he said softly. "There is not enough police or law enforcement to stop this thing," he said. "It is out of control."

Griffin's death came after a weekend in which Baltimore police said three were killed. One killing occurred hours before Griffin's body was found, and there have been four other killings this week, bringing the year's homicide total to 139.

The number of killings, which is 20 higher than it was last year at this time, is being watched by politicians running for citywide office and those who live in the city's struggling neighborhoods. Baltimore is on pace to surpass 300 homicides this year, something that has not happened since 1999.

Nonfatal shootings have also spiked. There were 333 as of yesterday, well over the 245 nonfatal shootings last year at this time, according to police statistics.

"This is worse than it has ever been," said Williams, pastor of the New Life Evangelical Baptist Church, at North Avenue and Belair Road, for the past 23 years. "We are not safe."

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said yesterday that she will meet Monday with rank-and-file police officers to get their input on curbing homicides. "They are in the position ... to be a good judge," she said.

City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is running for mayor, wants to hire at least 140 more police officers. Those positions are funded in the budget, but the city has not been able to recruit enough cadets. He also wants to beef up the city's witness protection program and hold weekly crime news conferences.

Mayor Sheila Dixon has held a series of news conferences on crime, recently announcing her intention to make overtime available for some police squads, direct criminal investigation detectives to walk foot patrols and push to reduce the number of illegal guns on the streets.

Dixon also has asked police to focus on "quality" arrests of those with violent history, a turn away from former Mayor Martin O'Malley's "zero tolerance" policing approach that relied on casting a wide net and arresting many for nuisance crimes.

But Paul Blair, head of the city's police union, said officers are demoralized. "They are getting mixed messages about arrests," he said. "Make more arrests. Make fewer quality arrests. Make more quality arrests." The police need better equipment, better retention rates and higher pay, he said.

This week, in addition to Griffin, homicide victims include Juan Taylor, 44, of the 2400 block of W. Lanvale St., who police said was fatally shot at 2:20 a.m. Monday in the 3200 block of Brighton St.

Curtis Washington, 17, was shot about 1 a.m. Tuesday in the 1600 block of Montpelier St. and died later at Johns Hopkins Hospital, police said.

At 11:48 p.m. Tuesday, police said, they received a call for a man shot in the 2400 block of N. Ellamont St. He died at 12:22 a.m. yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police have not identified him.

At 12:32 a.m. yesterday, police said, they received a call for a 22-year-old man shot in the head in the 3200 block of Phelps Lane. Tyree Williams of the 4900 block of St. Gemma Road died at Shock Trauma a short time later.

Two hours later, at 2:30 a.m. yesterday, police said, Maurice Gordon, 15, was found in the doorway of a house on the 2500 block of Linden Ave. He was suffering from gunshot wounds to the back and is on life support at Shock Trauma.

Griffin's mother, Beverly Miller, was too upset to speak with a reporter yesterday. Nobody was home at the East Monument Street address.

Home addresses for Griffin listed in court records included a house in the 2000 block of Sinclair Lane, but a neighbor said that Griffin had moved last year. Another address listed in court documents, in the 1900 block of N. Rose St., is amid a row of four dwellings that are boarded up and charred.

Vanessa Jeter, president of the New South Clifton Park Community Association -- the neighborhood where Griffin grew up -- said she has noticed the increase in crime.

"Police are trying to stay on top of things as best they can," Jeter said. "There need to be more police offices. They can't be everywhere doing everything."

With the summer coming, she said, she fears the hot weather will be accompanied by more violence.

"We hope the neighborhood will be more forceful as far as crime watch is concerned and watch out for each other," she said.

Others are pushing a simpler message. A sign outside the Church of St. Michael, at East 20th and St. Paul streets, reads: "You shall not murder. -- God."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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