Doing 'all the right things' couldn't save security guard


But his friends, who also made it out of Fulton Ave., vow to be there for his children

February 25, 2010|By Peter Hermann |

One of his best friends summed up the tragedy of James E. Ball Sr.'s shooting death this past weekend outside downtown Baltimore's Bank of America building:

"He did all the right things, and he still suffered the fate we had all been trying to avoid."

As a child, Ball had tapped into a close group of friends to survive growing up on Fulton Avenue in one of Baltimore's most depressed neighborhoods. Together, they escaped the drugs and the shootings that claimed many of their classmates, going on to college or to hold down jobs, and to raise families.

"We were all victims. I was robbed numerous times, I was shot at, I had guys pull guns on me," said 39-year-old Michael Taylor, who grew up with Ball. Taylor now works for the federal government and lives in suburban Washington. "We always knew that if we could make it through that, we could have a better life."

Some in the group grew up without fathers - Ball's died of a stroke when he was 8 - and they made a pact: They would be there for their children, and if something happened to any one of their group, they'd step in to help.

And that's why, hours after Ball, a 38-year-old security guard, was killed while guarding the bank building - helping a friend, according to his family, by bullets aimed at someone else, according to the police - his old buddies gathered in the basement of his Randallstown home.

They came from city neighborhoods and suburban cul-de-sacs, forming a circle around 6-year-old James E. Ball Jr. and 10-month-old Justin. Ball's girlfriend, Tai Bradley, broke the sad news.

"It was very important to James that his children grow up with a father," said Damien Vincent, 38, who works the front desk at the Tremont Hotel.

The message to the suddenly fatherless children?

"We will be there for them," Vincent said.

Vincent met Ball when he was 5 years old. They were at his house on Clifton Avenue, in the back. Vincent was on a Big Wheels. James sat on a push-pedal car. No one said a word. "We just hit it off immediately," Vincent said. "We've been close ever since."

Ball's friends remember how hard he worked. When he was just 13, he stood behind the counter and swept the corner store run by Miss Isabel, pulling in $20 a week, at the time a bundle of cash. After graduating from Walbrook Senior High, he worked for a cell phone company, but after getting laid off because of budget cuts, he started delivering mail and working for the Red Cross.

His mail hours cut, Ball joined with two security companies, working double shifts to provide for his family. All the while, he tried to break into his true calling, promotion. In December, he put on a comedy show at the Lyric Opera House, "Going for Broke," with the proceeds going to Toys for Tots.

On Friday, he spent eight hours working a security job in Columbia and then drove up to Baltimore to take the overnight shift in front of the 34-story Bank of America Building at 10 Light St. near the Inner Harbor. The office tower, built in 1929 as Baltimore's tallest skyscraper, also houses the Miles & Stockbridge law firm.

Ball was so devoted that when he ran out of gas while driving to the second job, he called his brother, Austin, who brought him gasoline and followed him to a filling station. Ball then went to Bank of America, arriving on time for his 1 a.m. shift. He did not have a gun.

An hour later, a friend and his girlfriend walked by. The woman went to the couple's car; the man paused to chat with Ball.

Police said a group of men approached the car and made unwanted advances toward the woman. Ball and his friend intervened, and one man in the group pulled out a handgun and fired nine times, aiming at Ball's friend, police said. The friend escaped unscathed, but two bullets hit Ball, and he died shortly after arriving at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. No arrests have been made.

The family is holding a viewing at Joseph H. Brown Funeral Home, 2140 N. Fulton Ave., from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. today and a service at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Friends and relatives are mourning a man caught up in indiscriminate street violence that they had successfully avoided.

"We all grew up in rough neighborhoods, and we made sure we all stayed on the same path," Taylor said. "We all ended up having sons, and we all said we'd break the chains and ensure that our sons had the opportunities that we didn't have. That's why this death saddens us so much."

The men in the group said it's no big secret how they survived Baltimore's unforgiving streets.

"It's not very difficult when you come from a strong foundation," Vincent said. "We were taught right from wrong at a very early age, and to have respect for those around us. James did what was necessary to take care of his family, like a real man should."

Now, his inner circle will have to protect James Jr. and Justin. The goal, said Vincent, "is to not have them turn out like the people who murdered their father."

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