Dixon And Residents Ask Why After Girl, 5, Is Critically Wounded On Baltimore Street

July 03, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

A 5-year-old girl was critically wounded Thursday afternoon, struck by a stray bullet fired by a young man who left a Southwest Baltimore street fight and returned with a gun, police said.

The girl was on life support last night at University of Maryland Medical Center, where Mayor Sheila Dixon said her family was distraught and looking for answers.

At the crime scene, swarms of people crowded around an intersection within view of two small, pink sandals and a pool of blood on Pulaski Street.

"This 5-year-old is fighting for her life," Dixon said after meeting with the girl's family. "I'm very angry about this. These thugs, for whatever reason, just don't care about life."

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the community is cooperating with authorities and that several "persons of interest" had been taken into custody. The suspect, initially believed to be holed up in a nearby home that was raided by tactical units, remained elusive, but police said they had solid leads, including surveillance camera footage.

"We're very confident based on what's coming in at this time that we'll have a suspect," Bealefeld said.

Josephine Harmanson, a mother of seven, said she heard the shots and ran to the scene. She said two women were huddled over the girl, who appeared to be trying to get up.

"Her little fingers were moving, and she was trying to get up and go home, like she didn't know what had happened," Harmanson said.

"You see it all the time here," she said, referring to gun violence, "but I've never seen it like that."

It has been years since such a young child was fatally wounded as a consequence of the city's street violence, according to records. Last August, a 6-year-old boy was wounded by a stray bullet in a shootout, but records show there hasn't been a fatal shooting of a child under age 10 in several years.

Overall, nine juveniles have been killed in Baltimore this year.

Thursday's shooting occurred just after 4 p.m. in the 300 block of Pulaski St., in the city's Carrollton Ridge neighborhood. Bealefeld said two young men were engaged in a street fight that had appeared to be finished after one of them left.

But he returned shortly with a semi- automatic weapon and opened fire. One of the bullets struck the girl in the head as she returned from running errands with a relative.

Shirley Hawes, who identified herself as the girl's aunt and was not at the scene when the shooting occurred, said the victim's first name was Raven and described her as a "fun-loving girl."

Residents, who said many children were outside playing at the time, said the neighborhood turned chaotic and that an ambulance took far too long to arrive.

Bealefeld and Dixon, who discussed the incident privately in Dixon's sport utility vehicle before addressing the news media, expressed outrage over the shooting.

"What could the fight have been about, so earthly important, that could possibly take a 5-year-old's life?" Bealefeld asked.

The girl was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where hospital officials said she was later stabilized and taken to the pediatric unit within the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Not long after the shooting, the area had the appearance of a typical crime scene, with officials huddled and detectives taking notes. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Then, one by one, top police officials began arriving.

Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale and Col. John Skinner, the chief of patrol, walked down the street where a group of men were standing. Officers handcuffed and searched one of them, then put him into a police van.

On the block where the shooting occurred, police asked television cameras and news photographers to turn away as juvenile witnesses were led out of a house.

A procession of tactical vehicles rumbled past the scene and police began blocking off an area down the street.

"Get these people out of here!" bellowed Maj. John Hess as bystanders were pushed back.

A group of young men watched the police from Payson Street and could be overheard talking among themselves.

"How do you shoot a .22 and not hit your target?" one laughed.

"Man, how do you shoot, period, and not hit your target?" another replied.

SWAT officers disembarked from vans and suited up, then rounded Payson Street as a tactical vehicle led the way toward Wilhelm Street, where police believed the suspect might have been hiding.

He was not there, but police said they were aggressively pursuing "substantial leads." Witnesses at the scene as well as confidential informants were providing information, police said.

About 9 p.m., officials said a man came to Shock Trauma with a bullet wound in his arm and became combative, refusing to answer questions about how he had been shot. Authorities, unsure whether the man was connected to the shooting of the girl, called for police backup and restrained him.

Residents said the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood is a heavy drug area often terrorized by young men. On a light post wrapped with police tape, someone had scrawled "R.I.P. Shawn," a possible reference to Shawn Williams, 18, who was shot and killed a few blocks away in April.

Dominic Baker, 16, who cut off a monitoring bracelet and ran away from home, was shot to death in a vacant home in the area.

"They're fighting every single day, and if they aren't fighting, they're shooting," said Adrianna Ferguson, 50. "I ain't never lived in an area like this. The police said they'll be more visible, but that's all they are: visible."

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.

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