Homicides are down in city, but 16 people were killed in June

At Shaffer's Lounge and Sports Bar, a small bar on the fringes of Pigtown with one pool table and a sign above the cash register that reads "Sarcasm: One of the free services I offer," the lone employee heard the gunshots and hit the deck.

Outside, a man lay bleeding. The employee's pickup truck parked outside the door was riddled with bullets. Later, one of the detectives asking her questions broke away to take a phone call — "I'm at the OK Corral," he told the person on the other end, she said.

It was the third shooting Friday morning, coming as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was readying for a news conference to promote a program to accelerate the execution of warrants on violent offenders.

"We can be a safer city, but we must do more," she said.

The statistics say 16 people were killed in Baltimore in June, a figure that, historically speaking, is as low as the city has seen for the month of June in more than two decades.

Still, 16 people were killed in June. People like Omar D. Johnson, a 16-year-old who kept out of trouble — until a fight among a group of girls Wednesday night led someone to pull out a handgun, firing a shot that found Johnson's stomach.

"My son never sold a drug — he wasn't in no gang," said his father, Eric Anderson, 33. "He was no different than any other teenager — into girls, hanging out with friends and riding bikes. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

The victims also include Brittny Devone, a 22-year-old who friends say graduated from Dunbar High School despite being homeless. She held her head high as she scraped and clawed through life, until a man fatally stabbed her Monday inside a Southeast Baltimore home.

And the victims include Chong Wan Yim, a 55-year-old Korean businessman making his rounds when he was shot Tuesday in a shopping center parking lot. Tips from the community led detectives to William Carr, a career criminal recently let out of prison after serving a sentence for armed robbery, who was arrested Friday morning and charged with first-degree murder.

Homicides have declined to rates reminiscent of the 1980s, before crack cocaine touched off drug wars, but the city remains one of the most violent in the nation.

Rawlings-Blake summoned reporters to police headquarters to talk not about the recent string of crimes but about how she said police are trying to prevent more like them. The governor's office awarded the city $170,000 to pay for overtime to help serve warrants on people charged with serious crimes, who officials believe are among those most likely to commit more crimes.

"When I go to community meetings across our city, the main priority communities are talking about is public safety," Rawlings-Blake said.

Omar Johnson liked to play basketball and X-Box, and he spent afternoons at an after-school mission program at a neighborhood church that once a year takes kids on a camping trip. He had no interaction with the juvenile justice system, a source confirmed.

Five years ago, he lost his mother and was attending counseling to try to cope, relatives say. But his father and grandparents kept close tabs on him. "Omar couldn't breathe too hard without me knowing," Anderson said.

Johnson's death came amid a fight among girls, according to officials. The word around the community is that a pregnant girl was hit in the stomach by another girl, and rounded up friends to get revenge. At some point, bullets started flying, and Johnson was killed.

This was the story a group of girls told Johnson's grandmother, Sheila Anderson, when they visited the house and one of them explained how she had taken off her shirt to try to stanch the bleeding.

Sheila Anderson, who relies heavily on a cane to get around and speaks slowly but powerfully, is devastated. "I'm sad," she said flatly. "I just want justice. I don't want nobody hurt or nothing. If people saw what happened, they need to say something."

In Pigtown, the bartender at Shaffer's was too scared to give her name, but spitting mad at the firefighters washing blood from the sidewalk and pushing bloody rags left behind by paramedics into the gutter.

She paced up and down beside her pickup truck, which now sports four bullet holes as a result of the shooting, taking long drags from her cigarette, and nervously assesses the damage that she cannot afford to repair.

She said that the neighborhood has seen far too many shootings lately and that it is starting to affect the bar's business. She said she has been robbed at gunpoint in the past and that "drugs, drugs, drugs" are the root cause of all the area's problems.

"You've gotta be scared to death to walk these streets in broad daylight," she said.

Brittny Devone not only walked on the streets of the city's east side but also lived on them, according to friend Ashley Jackson, 23.

"She just wanted to make people laugh; she joked about everything," Jackson recalled. "She would always try to help you if she could, but she was the one who needed the help."

She was too embarrassed by her situation to seek help; too proud to take a handout, Jackson said.

To get by, "she did what she had to do," Jackson said. Court records indicate that included prostitution and theft. Police have charged a man in her death — Jose Villatoro, whom Jackson said Devone knew.

Jackson recently lost her mother to cancer. Devone's death has her in shock. "I don't have anybody I can really talk to," she said. "That was my homegirl."


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