A few hours before Joseph Woah-Tee made a fatal trip early Sunday to his Pen Lucy community center, the Liberian educator and activist met with a childhood friend to discuss making another run at his native country's presidency.
Woah-Tee, 60, ran a determined campaign for Liberia's top political post from his Baltimore home in 2005, finishing 14th out of 22 candidates despite having lived in Baltimore since 1978. Woah-Tee was gearing up to try again in 2011.
"He was planning for Liberia, setting up plans for his country," said Jalo Whyte, who knew Woah-Tee for 50 years. "We were having our preliminary meeting, setting up the framework for his campaign. He was very ambitious and anti-corruption. He really wanted to make a change."
City police said Woah-Tee was shot during an attempted robbery about 3:40 a.m. at Gaimei Nangbn Multi-Purpose Neighborhood Center in the 4300 block of York Road. The center, which Woah-Tee founded in 1990, offered GED classes and other activities.
Whyte said Woah-Tee rented out the center for a neighborhood party Saturday night that was supposed to end at 3 a.m. Sunday. The two friends spent much of the evening at Woah-Tee's home in Northeast Baltimore, formulating campaign strategy, watching CNN and prioritizing issues that Liberia faces. Their conversation lasted into the early morning hours before Whyte, feeling fatigued, fell asleep. Woah-Tee left shortly after 3 a.m. to clean the center.
It was a typical late-night jaunt for Woah-Tee, who frequently rented out the space for weekend parties. About 30 minutes after he made the trip Sunday morning, police said a man entered and asked about renting the center. A witness told police that after the man was told that a $10 holding fee was required, he demanded that Woah-Tee give him money.
Seconds later, another man armed with a handgun entered the building and shot Woah-Tee, and the pair fled without any money, according to police. Woah-Tee was taken by ambulance to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later. Police have not made any arrests.
Outside Woah-Tee's home Monday, Whyte and dozens of other friends and family members were trying to piece together what happened and why.
"I fell asleep," Whyte said. "And I regret it so much. I'm not sure how things would have been different."
A parade of visitors from Baltimore's Liberian community visited Woah-Tee's home. Maryland is considered a haven for refugees from the West African country's violence. Woah-Tee held a doctorate from the University of Maryland and degrees from Morgan State University. He most recently taught at John Eager Howard Elementary in Baltimore and spent years in teaching and administrative positions in the city public school system.
He is survived by his wife, Cecelia, five children, and 16 brothers and sisters. Family members said there will be a service in Baltimore the third week of July, before Woah-Tee's body is taken back to Liberia.