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A year in Baltimore, ended with a final, human touch

In his brief time here, Stephen Pitcairn touched the lives of his first friends and his final encounter alike

July 31, 2010|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

They lived four blocks apart, but Pitcairn and Higgins had never met. Higgins thinks he would have liked him, and, indeed, they seem to share a certain citizen-of-the-world sensibility: Like Pitcairn, who rapidly became proficient in Japanese during his junior year there, Higgins spent a number of years living abroad, the product of parents who wanted their children to appreciate other cultures, and speaks Turkish from several years in Turkey.

An entire wall of his living room is filled with books and music reflecting his interests, from a photo of schoolchildren in Ghana to several volumes on Cuba. Sitting on his old "graduate school couch," surrounded by walls painted in soothing shades, Higgins says he now feels all the more committed to staying in the neighborhood he and Pitcairn shared.

"We can't live in fear," he said.

Higgins is troubled by the racially tinged anger that has spilled forth in the wake of the crime, as it invariably does in Baltimore when a particularly sympathetic white victim seems to have been preyed upon by black repeat offenders. But race was the last thing on his mind when Higgins, who is black, saw Pitcairn, who is white, gravely injured outside his house.

"It's not about race," Higgins said. "It's a criminal issue."

"They hide behind the keyboard," he said of anonymous commenters who leave incendiary posts about the case on Internet sites. "The person that assisted him and tried to help him is black, so what are you talking about? It's not black or white. I saw him as a human being, dying in the street."

Higgins seems a bit overwhelmed by the attention his act of humanity has brought.

"Sometimes we have to step away from ourselves, and I guess I wasn't thinking about myself at the time. You think of the other person.

"I would hope everyone would do the same thing," Higgins said. "In my neighborhood, I know people would do the same thing. We have good folks here."

Final link to friend

Last Tuesday, instead of taking their friend out to celebrate his 24th birthday, Pitcairn's colleagues brought a cake and flowers to the 2600 block of St. Paul St., creating a streetside memorial.

Higgins happened to come home for lunch as Pitcairn's co-workers were lingering at the site, and a neighbor pointed him out as the man who stayed with their friend through his final minutes.

Tears well up in Higgins' eyes as he remembers their impromptu meeting, the first people Pitcairn encountered when he moved to Baltimore and the stranger who would be his last.

"They asked me if he suffered, or if it was quick," Higgins said. "They wanted to know if he looked afraid."

Higgins told them what he could, although in the end, their questions and his answers were less important than what he represented to them — a final, human link to their lost friend.

"They basically thanked me for being there," he said, "for holding his hand, and his having some comfort."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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