Shooting, stabbing follow Inner Harbor fireworks display

Boy, 4, hit by stray bullet; police have photos of suspect in fatal stabbing

July 05, 2011|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A fatal stabbing and the baffling shooting of a 4-year-old boy stunned visitors to Baltimore's downtown Fourth of July festivities and drew condemnation from the city's mayor and police commissioner as they worked to remind people of the thousands who enjoyed the celebration without incident.

The violence occurred despite the presence of nearly 600 city and state officers to help with a crowd that was nearly double the size that attended last year, according to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

"Our citizens, our visitors deserve better, and [they] will get better," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday. Of the injured child, she said: "It's a worst nightmare for any parent to have this happen on a day that we expect to celebrate ... that we expect to have good memories.

"We will find out who did this," the mayor said.

Baltimore police said they were confident that they would be able to track down the man who fatally stabbed 26-year-old Joseph Lorenzo Calo, based on a photo provided by a witness who was in the area.

Calo, of Opelika, Ala., was in town visiting family and got into a shoving match with a group of men outside McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant on Pier 6, according to Bealefeld. Later, the commissioner said, Calo "re-engaged" the suspect and was stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle.

The shooting of the 4-year-old remained a mystery for investigators, however. The boy, identified by WBAL-TV as Kavin Benson of Middle River, was walking with his father and the father's pregnant fiancee on Pratt Street near a police command center for tactical officers when the boy's father heard a pop and saw that the boy was bleeding from the leg.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Children's Center determined that the boy had a small-caliber bullet lodged near his knee. But Bealefeld said none of the officers at the heavily saturated scene heard a gunshot, and camera footage doesn't show signs of a gun being fired nearby. No shell casings were recovered.

Officials are exploring whether the bullet, which Bealefeld said entered the boy's leg with a "downward trajectory," may have been fired into the air and struck the boy as it came back down. "It is possible that the bullet came from elsewhere," said Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman. "That makes our job a lot more difficult."

The violence shook residents and visitors who attended the event, and was the topic of much discussion on social media sites and talk radio. Just hours earlier, Bealefeld had given assurances that visitors would be safe, saying a shooting in a downtown parking garage at 2 a.m. was not random, but was two former neighbors settling an old score.

Jean Holzhueter, who lives within walking distance of the Inner Harbor, has attended the New Year's and Independence Day fireworks for many years, but she said that Monday was the first time she felt unsafe during the festivities.

Holzhueter said she was standing near the water's edge by the Baltimore Area Visitors Center when a fight broke out and people gathered around to watch and record the fracas on cellphones and cameras. Television news cameras captured the fight and aired it on the 11 p.m. broadcasts. A second fight started nearby at the end of the fireworks, she said.

"It was kind of like a moving mob," Holzhueter said. Although police responded quickly, she said, Holzhueter was afraid she would be pushed into the water by the expanding crowd. "It was just scary how fast it grew."

Nicola Henry, a 21-year-old from Jamaica, is a first-time Baltimore visitor. "I'm disappointed," she said. "Baltimore is a nice place. I guess things like that happen, but it puts a damper on how I view the city."

Mark and Peg Wytrwal of Las Vegas, dressed in matching patriotic T-shirts, said they came to Baltimore to enjoy the history. "It's sad to say, but that's the world we live in today," Mark Wytrwal said of the violence. "We won't let it deter us from enjoying the city, though."

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the publicity was the "kind you don't want to have," but said downtown remains a safe and growing area.

"Some people already have a view of Baltimore as an unsafe place. This type of incident will fuel that perception," Fowler said. "However, there are many people who understand that the real Baltimore is a growing and diverse place and recognize that these events sometimes happen."

Added Bill Gilmore of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts: "You need to march along. You can't let an incident like this deter your Independence Day celebrations. You can't let the actions of a few people affect the good work and entertainment of the public at large."

With the same number of people — 104 — killed in the city as this time last year, and shootings up 6 percent, violence has not been a prominent issue in the mayor's race. Mayoral candidates condemned the crimes but had offered few concrete policy proposals.

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