A 3-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet Friday after a gunman opened fire in North Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood, the latest shooting in a spike in gun violence.
The girl, identified by her father as McKenzie Elliott, was on a porch in the 3600 block of Old York Road about 4 p.m. when police say she was struck by a bullet fired toward a nearby street corner. Two others were also injured in what police called a short gunfight, and one of them was described as a "person of interest."
McKenzie's father, 23-year-old Anthony Lipford, described his daughter as "vibrant, with energy out of this world." He said she already knew how to count to 30 and knew her ABCs. He said she'd ride her bike through the neighborhood, saying to adults, "My name is McKenzie. I'm 3 years old. Can I have some candy?"
Lipford was on his way back from work in Towson, planning to take the girl swimming. "If I had gotten off an hour earlier," he said, hitting himself on the leg in frustration, "I would have been here."
"I cannot stand here and tell you how outraged we are," Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told reporters at the scene. "A 3-year-old victim, an innocent victim, standing near guardians, took a stray bullet."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the girl's death a "senseless and outrageous act of cowardice."
"These are the moments where communities have to come together and say enough is enough, and speak out with any information they may have to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice," she said in a statement.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor will hold a press conference with Baltimore police and neighborhood leaders at 4 p.m. Saturday at the scene of the Waverly shooting. Rawlings-Blake will encourage residents to come forward with information to help solve the case, while the police department is deploying extra officers to combat the recent spike in violence, he said.
While homicides and shootings have been down by double-digit percentages this year, 36 people have been shot since last Friday, including several shootings in which multiple people were struck.
Earlier Friday, police said, a Morrell Park business owner turned the tables on four masked robbers, shooting one of them in the leg. Around 8 p.m., police reported that someone was shot in the leg in the Lakeland neighborhood of South Baltimore. Three other people were shot in separate incidents across the city later on Friday.
In Waverly, police summoned patrol cars from other districts and flooded the blocks near the shooting as a police helicopter made repeated circles overhead.
Neighbors pushing strollers and kids on bikes rode up to the police line, peering at the scene. Many bemoaned the state of the neighborhood, saying it has been in decline. Earlier this year, two people were killed there in a span of about two weeks, and a fatal shooting took place in the same block as Friday's shooting last year.
"I'm just trying to find the right words. I don't know what their motive is. A 3-year-old child has done nothing to nobody. They have no business killing a child. They have no business killing anybody," said the Rev. Macie O. Tillman Sr., a chaplain who works with police. "They need help, and I'm going to pray for them."
Witnesses told police that a car drove up Old York Road, paused at the intersection of East 36th Street, and someone inside opened fire. Shots were returned, police said. Neighbors said they heard between four to six shots, in rapid succession. The porch where McKenzie was sitting was four homes away from the street corner.
A 21-year-old woman suffered graze wounds to her chin and hand, police said. She was not identified.
A man admitted himself at a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound, and Rodriguez called him a "person of interest" in the shooting. Investigators believe they also recovered a car that was involved.
"We believe we're making quick progress," Deputy Police Commissioner Dean Palmere said.
Lipford, McKenzie's father, stood on the porch looking through his phone at pictures of the girl. One showed the girl with braids and beads in her hair.
"I just did that yesterday," Lipford said. He flipped to a birthday video where she was dressed in pink, then another taken at Port Discovery. Viewing the images caused the girl's mother to be overcome with grief, and they disappeared back into the family home.
Nyah Vanterpool, a resident who worked as a community activist with the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, said he was stunned the shooting occurred in the "proud" and active neighborhood.
The neighborhood is perhaps best known for its farmers' market and its proximity to the former Memorial Stadium, where the Baltimore Orioles played from 1954 until 1991. The stadium was demolished in 2001 and is now home to a YMCA, a tidy playground and youth baseball field, and a skilled nursing facility.