2 Deaths And A Singular Bond


August 23, 2009|By PETER HERMANN

John R. "Jack" Yates of Charles Village was killed Aug. 4, when his bicycle hit a truck near downtown.

Charles G. "Boots" Pratt of Randallstown was killed Aug. 9, when a gunman shot him in a parking lot in Cherry Hill.

Yates was 67, had been busy working on his third master's degree, and had two children and six grandchildren.

Pratt was 18, had been busy working with the Hillside street gang, according to police, and had just escaped an attempted-murder charge because a witness recanted.

FOR THE RECORD - An Aug. 23 Crime Beat column on the deaths of a counselor and a student from the now-closed Baraka school misspelled the first name of Ilana Foss, a teacher, and incorrectly stated the institution from which she received a degree in black studies. It was Amherst College.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

But the two disparate deaths shared a seemingly improbable connection in a city where too often victims are unmourned and unknown beyond a circle of loved ones and close friends.

Jake Yates knew Charles Pratt.

The bicyclist who couldn't stop pursuing college degrees and the alleged inner-city gang member who couldn't escape the streets spent hours together in counseling sessions.

Yates worked as a Baltimore-based counselor for the Baraka School in Kenya, designed for at-risk youth. Pratt was a Baraka student who took part in the innovative yet controversial program to educate troubled middle-school kids by sending them to Africa.

The Baraka School was shut down in the summer of 2003 because of threats of terrorism and violence abroad, but the Abell Foundation, which had helped sponsor the program, paid Yates to track the students through 2008.

"These young men lost not only a mentor, they also lost a classmate," said Mary Scanlan, who had been the U.S. coordinator for the Baraka program.

Had her husband been alive when Pratt was killed, said Yates' wife, Ellen, "his heart would have broken."

It is unclear whether Yates and Pratt had been talking in the months before their deaths, but Pratt's mother attended Yates' funeral on Aug. 11, just two days after her son was killed and six days before she buried him.

Baraka students attended both funerals as well, including young men who made it off the drug corners and into colleges and universities such as Morehouse, Frostburg and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

At Pratt's funeral, the former Baraka students joined teachers, relatives and gang members.

"They know what's going on in the streets," said Scanlan, who attended the services. "They're stunned still. It reinforced for them how they've got to be careful and stay out of these situations."

Yates had spent a lifetime getting kids off the corners. He had a bachelor's degree from the University of Baltimore and two master's degrees from Johns Hopkins, including one in education. He had spent 30 years as a juvenile probation officer before joining Baraka. Though the school closed six years ago, the Abell Foundation kept him on to mentor graduates through 2008.

"He stayed on to the bitter end," Ellen Yates said, explaining that when they went out to dinner or to visit friends, her husband often stopped by the houses of his kids, routinely making the couple late.

Scanlan said Yates never gave up on a child and kept in touch with all of them until a youth "disappeared and couldn't be found anymore."

After retiring, Yates decided to return to school, to the University of Baltimore, to pursue another master's degree, this time involving substance abuse. He was on his way to the school to drop off a document when his bicycle hit a truck at Maryland and Lafayette avenues in the Charles North neighborhood.

Five days later, in South Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood, a gunman fired several bullets into Pratt, who had just emerged from a Chinese carryout at Terra Firma and Cherry Hill roads shortly before 10:30 p.m. Police are seeking the gunman.

Last summer, Pratt had been charged with wounding three rival gang members who were on a front porch on Cherry Hill's Slater Avenue. Police arrested him weeks after the June shooting after a tipster led officers to two loaded .45-caliber pistols linked to the shooting that were hidden under an elementary school sandbox.

Baltimore prosecutors put the attempted murder case on the inactive docket last month, saying a witness had changed the story he told police.

What I couldn't find out is how Pratt went from Baraka to the streets. His mother did not respond to interview requests, and school counselors and teachers didn't know what Yates and Pratt had talked about. Ellen Yates said she met many of the children under her husband's tutelage, but never Pratt.

She said her husband often went before judges to plead on behalf of his students, "and he saved a lot of them from going to jail and having records. If one failed, he'd say, 'I don't know what else to do' but then he'd get a twinkle in his eye and off he'd go trying to help again. He took it personally. If a student failed, he would say he failed them."

Illana Foss was at Baraka from 2001 through 2003 and taught Pratt reading comprehension when he enrolled in the school in 2002 at age 11. Foss remembers him being good at handwriting, keeping his anger in check and being mature for his age.

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