A perennial jokester known for his tendency to break into song, Sean Gamble was the one his friends turned to when they needed cheering up or had an occasion to celebrate.
With his two brothers and two sisters, he filled his parents' home with church songs and improvised melodies, making friends and family laugh with his tunes about cold-cut sandwiches and feta cheese.
So it was only natural that Sean Gamble would accompany his cousin, Martin Gamble, and their friends during Martin's 23rd birthday celebration last Saturday at Select Lounge. Martin always had fun when Sean was around, and most of the evening went as planned, the men reveling in a night out.
"We felt like celebrities," said Martin Gamble, reflecting on Saturday's events at his aunt and uncle's house in North Baltimore. "The night was just perfect."
But by the end of the night, 22-year-old Sean Gamble and a plainclothes police officer, William H. Torbit, 33, would be dead, both shot during a chaotic scene outside the club at Paca and Franklin streets.
For Gamble's friends and family, his death means they will have to find a way to one day explain last weekend's events to his son, 2-year-old Sean Gamble Jr. They will also have to convey to little Sean who his father was and what he stood for.
"He was really deep into the church," said Lucette Gamble, Sean's mother, whom he called "Momdukes."
Sean Gamble was raised in a Pentecostal family, and tears would sometimes stream down his face when he was lost in the moment during service at the church his grandfather founded, the Church of Jesus Christ on Hillen Road, said his father, John Gamble.
He was also a jokester, stuffing his father's nose with tissues as a middle-schooler and making friends crack up, sometimes with just a funny look.
"He liked to see everybody happy," said Yorel Johns, friends with Gamble since the two met in high school. "If you weren't feeling good, he could make you happy."
Boyish-looking, with a round face and close-cropped hair, Gamble lived in Glen Burnie with his fiancee, a photographer he met while pursuing a modeling career in 2006, and their son. He captained his high school football team and played for the Baltimore Saints, a semiprofessional football team. Sean Gamble and his brother, James, aspired to play in the NFL, their father said.
On Thursday, hundreds of friends, family, classmates and teammates of Gamble's packed the pews and aisles of two spacious rooms at the March Funeral Home on Wabash Avenue for a memorial service that was at times joyful and at others touched by grief.
Gamble's former football coach at Woodlawn High School led current and former members of the team in Gamble's favorite game-time chant, and members of the Woodlawn High School choir, in which Gamble once sang, performed for those who attended.
Gamble's fiancee, Laura Long, gripped the lectern for support as she remembered him through tears as "my husband, my friend, a wonderful father."
"I feel like I have to sing something for him today," Long said, delivering an emotional rendition of "It Is Well With My Soul" between sobs.
An investigation of what happened last weekend in the Select Lounge parking lot will likely take weeks. Gathered in the Gambles' red-brick home in the Cylburn neighborhood on a midweek afternoon, his friends and family said they feel their loss has gone unacknowledged by police and city officials, including the mayor.
"My son got caught up in the mix," said Lucette Gamble, "and he's not here because of that."