City police have arrested a 16-year-old boy in what court documents describe as a gang-initiation killing in Northwest Baltimore.
Desmond Sims of the 3800 block of Boarman Ave. has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the Dec. 29 killing of 19-year-old Jeffery Ward Jr. in the 3800 block of Oakford Ave.
Sims is the youngest person charged with murder this year in the city.
Police said they located a witness to the shooting who identified Sims, also known as "Dazy," as the shooter. According to police, the investigation revealed that Sims repeatedly shot Ward with a .45-caliber handgun, in a gang-initiation slaying.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives believe Sims was being initiated into a set of the Bloods gang.
Sims' mother, Patricia Rhodes, said her son was being "railroaded," saying he had never been involved with violence and to her knowledge was not in a gang.
She acknowledged, however, that she was concerned about his behavior after he dropped out of school last year and was caught with drugs. Rhodes said she had not run into such problems with her other four children and was struggling to get Sims on the right track.
"People need to realize, these gang influences, if that's actually what happened, could happen to anybody's child," Rhodes said. "It's just devastating."
The killing comes as prosecutors from across the state are in Annapolis arguing for tougher anti-gang laws. Last week, legislators heard from prosecutors and police who said they want to define who is a gang member and broaden the number of crimes that can trigger longer prison sentences.
Critics, including the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., and the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the need for enhanced penalties and said the proposals were misguided.
It was not clear whether Ward may have been a rival gang member or was targeted at random, but Ward's mother said there is "more to the story." She would not elaborate.
"I'm grateful they got [the alleged gunman], but they need to get the person who told him to do it," said the mother, who asked not to be identified.
Ward was a senior at Harbor City High School in West Baltimore who liked to box and ride dirt bikes, his mother said. According to court records, he had two drug-related arrestsand was acquitted in both cases.
He also had a son who was 2 months old at the time of Ward's death.
"He was a loving father to his son," his mother said.
Charging documents say that detectives questioned Sims in the presence of his parents, and he denied any involvement in the killing. He also denied that his nickname was "Dazy," though his mother confirmed that as his nickname.
Rhodes said no such exchange with detectives occurred. She said Sims was questioned by detectives two weeks ago while she waited in another room. Then Wednesday, detectives picked him up and made the rest of the family stay in the main room of the house for several hours while they waited to obtain search warrants.
She said police did not take anything from the home.
Rhodes said she has spoken with her son from Central Booking and that he continues to deny any involvement in the killing.
She thinks he will be cleared, and that this experience might benefit him in the long run.
"I told him, 'Maybe this will be the thing that will turn you around and let you know that you need to go back to school and get on the right track,' " she said.
Ward was found about 9:15 p.m., lying on his stomach and suffering from gunshot wounds to the head. He was taken to Sinai Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Police recovered seven .45-caliber shell casings, among other items, at the scene.
His mother said family members grew worried when Ward did not come home that night, and they checked local hospitals to see if he had been admitted.
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