City boy, 12, dies of gunshot wounds

mother recalls anguish of shooting

Principal tells classmates about death in tearful meeting

  • Sean Johnson, 12, died after being shot while watching a basketball game.
Sean Johnson, 12, died after being shot while watching a basketball…
May 27, 2011|By Erica L. Green and Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

It was a little before 10 Tuesday night, and Shawnta Little had just given her son his five-minute warning.

A few minutes later, she heard a beating on the door that would lead to nearly 48 hours in Johns Hopkins Children's Center, where after continuous prayer and medical tests, Little would make the final decision of her 12-year-old son's life: letting his body succumb to the gun shots that had left him brain dead.

"We just kept praying, and they did every test they could do to be absolutely sure," Little said, a day after she authorized doctors to take her son off life support. "And the fact that they donated his organs, I still feel like I'm going to go up there and they're going to say, 'Oh, he woke up.'"

Sean Johnson was pronounced dead at 5:05 p.m. Thursday, two days after he and three of his friends were shot Tuesday night while watching a basketball game on the front porch of a home in Northeast Baltimore. Police, who have made no arrests, said a man with a gun turned a corner and opened fire on people who were sitting on a porch in the 1700 block of Cliftview Ave., near Harford Road.

The three other teens were slightly wounded. Sean's mother said her son was shot twice in the head and once in the neck and leg. A bullet lodged in his spine.

Little said that on the night of the shooting, she allowed Sean to hang outside their Lake Clifton home with his friends later than usual. Before coming in, Sean walked a few blocks from his house to Cliftview Avenue to walk a friend home, Little said, something his group of friends did when it was dark.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Friday, the 35-year-old Little, who has lived in the same home in Lake Clifton for 25 years, two blocks from her son was shot, described the night "she just went numb."

Little said that the surviving victims are a group of promising kids and Sean's closest neighborhood friends. Authorities have said none of the victims had criminal records; one was headed to college. Since the shooting, they've blamed themselves for not being able to save him. "I told them they all got hurt," Little said, "Sean was just hurt worse."

Shortly after the gunfire erupted, a neighbor rapped on the door and told her that Sean was lying in the street, bleeding from his head — a scene that neighbors advised her against seeing for herself, so she set out for the hospital.

"Just like that," she said. "I had just seen him, and said, 'All right baby, it's time to get in the house,'" Little said. "When I heard, I just thought, 'Why would someone shoot my baby?'"

She said that she believes that the police are doing all that they can to find her son's killer, but "I'm angry, I'm disappointed, that it happened to him," she said. "But it shouldn't have happened to anybody."

Community and school leaders expressed the same frustrations early Friday after Sean's death was made public.

At a Friday morning rally, Baltimore City Councilman Carol Stokes called for more community policing in the area, which he said would encourage residents to give tips on criminal activity in their neighborhood. Baltimore has plenty of officers, he said, but they are not deployed effectively.

"The men and women in blue work their butts off in this city," said Stokes, a possible candidate for mayor. "I think they're handcuffed."

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that the department is putting more cops on foot patrol. "This administration has said from day one that the best way to reduce crime in Baltimore is by getting cops out of police cars," he said.

After the rally was over and the television crews had packed up, laughing children ran up and down the sidewalks of the 1700 block of Cliftview Ave.

Deondre Jackson, 13, sat on steps with friends. He asked a reporter if Sean had died, and was quiet when he heard the answer. "I played football with him," Jackson said, in a neighborhood league. "The city's just getting outrageous."

Little described Sean as a pleasant and protective child, who loved school, his baby brother, and football. Sean played for the Lake Clifton Longhorns, where she said, "he wanted to be with the big boys," next year, and worked hard enough to move up to the 11-14 age division.

As Little looked over her shoulder at Sean's 7-month-old brother, Me-Sean, she recalled how she had planned on not having any more children. She found out about her pregnancy four months in, never imagining that it would be a blessing in disguise.

"When I see him, I see Sean," Little said, smiling as she glanced over at the toddler. "I see love. He was just so loved."

Much of that love came from his Montebello Elementary School community, Little said, a school she said she was "honored" he could attend for all but one year of his schooling, and where he was in a circle of advanced students. He would have turned 13 in July, and started eighth grade next year.

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