As city police prepared to bury one of their own, violence on the streets surged with five people killed in less than a day.
Two people, including a 48-year-old woman, were slain in the city's Broadway East neighborhood within an hour on Monday evening. A 16-year-old boy was fatally shot early Tuesday in Northwest Baltimore, followed by a 63-year-old school bus driver who was getting ready to go to work in West Baltimore.
Hours later, police were back in the leafy Ashburton neighborhood where the unidentified teen was killed, to investigate a drive-by double shooting that claimed the life of one 18-year-old and wounded another.
A home on the street was draped in caution tape — Halloween decorations that the 50-year-old homeowner uses every year to attract kids seeking sweet tarts and Snickers bars. But just a few doors down, a wide section of the neighborhood was closed off by real police tape. The spooky "Beware" sign in her yard took on an unintended meaning.
"This is not something we're used to," said the woman, who declined to give her name because of her occupation. "It makes you nervous, because there's a couple of new faces in the neighborhood."
The burst of violence comes as police have been streaming to area funeral homes to pay their respects to fallen colleagues. Three officers were killed in less than a month; funeral services for two are this week.
Officer Tommy Portz Jr., who became the first officer to die in the line of duty since 2007 when his cruiser struck a parked fire engine last week, was a personal friend of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. An aide said Bealefeld was trying to balance the unrelenting spate of crimes with his obligation to a fallen friend.
"At the end of the day, we're a 4,000-strength department," said a spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. "After the services, the police commissioner's first call will be to his deputy commissioner and chief of detectives to get an update and come up with a plan."
If police hoped that their mourning might bring a respite from crime, those hopes were quickly dashed.
Police had identified a suspect in at least one of the slayings: the fatal stabbing of 48-year-old Mary Williams, which police said was believed to be domestic. As of Tuesday night, no arrest had been made.
At the scene, in the 2000 block of E. Oliver St., firefighters rinsed the bloody steps of a vacant home where her body was found, as a man and a toddler watched from the doorway of a nearby residence.
"I've known her for years," a woman muttered as she passed by the scene, not far from the American Brewery development.
Williams' daughter, Michelle Thornton, 21, said she had just gotten off work when she received a voice-mail message from a relative urging her to call. Soon she was at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where a doctor said a knife had pierced her mother's heart.
Thornton said her mother battled drug addiction but was a "fun-loving" person who was well-known in the neighborhood. Williams' son, a 24-year-old sergeant in the Army, was flying to Baltimore from Arizona to be with the family.
"I never thought my mother would die like this," Thornton said.
A half-mile from where Williams was found, Durrell Buroughs had been shot in the head at about 5:30 p.m. Police had little information, saying only that Buroughs, 19, was found in the 1200 block of N. Milton Ave and taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The city remains slightly off last year's pace for killings, with 180 killed so far in 2010 compared with 184 at this time last year. Three years ago, that number was 246. In 2006, it was 225.
But the city's most persistently violent neighborhoods — the Eastern, Western and Northwestern districts, where police deploy an extra complement of plainclothes detectives — are struggling. Thirty-six people have been murdered this year in the Eastern District, just two fewer than were killed all of last year there.
The Western District, meanwhile, had already surpassed last year's total before the death of 63-year-old William Edward Spears early Tuesday morning. At about 5:20 a.m., police said, Spears was approached by an unknown gunman as he climbed into his car in the 1700 block of McKean Ave. He was shot multiple times.
His ex-wife, Corethea Spears, said he was a school bus driver who was warming his car up to go to work when the shooting occurred. One of his five sons ran outside and found him slumped over in the front seat, Spears said.
"Everyone called him 'Steel Bill,' because he was so mellow and smooth," Corethea Spears said.
The former owner of a shoe repair business in Prince George's County, Spears had driven a cab for decades before becoming a bus driver for a contractor. "He was a good man — a loving, supportive father," Corethea Spears said.