Stolen futures: Baltimore faces uptick in youth violence

Mar 28, 2023, 3:02 AM

A backpack is seen near evidence markers at the site of a shooting near Edmondson Westside High Sch...

A backpack is seen near evidence markers at the site of a shooting near Edmondson Westside High School, Jan. 4, 2023, in Baltimore. In response to rising youth violence, Baltimore leaders are ramping up efforts to de-escalate conflicts between young people and protect students going to and from school. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Decades after losing her older brother to gun violence, Michelle Hines tried everything to keep her teenage son safe: checking in regularly with his teachers, coordinating extracurricular activities, and most importantly, trying to prevent him from growing up too fast.

Despite those efforts, Izaiah Carter was fatally shot earlier this month in a park adjacent to his Baltimore high school. He had recently turned 16.

His death added to an alarming trend: more children and teens getting shot, even as gun violence overall trends downward in Baltimore. After several recent shootings of Baltimore high schoolers, including three teens killed within blocks of their schools, local leaders are ramping up efforts to reduce youth violence and increase student safety.

Last week, officials announced an arrest in Izaiah’s case. Police provided few details about how they solved the killing, saying a motive hasn’t been identified.

Hines said the arrest brings her some relief, but she wants to know more about how the shooting unfolded.

“This has been one of my biggest fears. That’s why I put so many parameters in place to protect him,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday, the day after her son’s funeral. “It’s so messed up because I never thought I would be one of these stories on the news.”

Hines said she was in close touch with many of Izaiah’s teachers at Patterson High School in east Baltimore. On March 6, the day he was killed, a teacher texted her saying he missed last period. A short time later, Hines received a call from the principal who told her about the shooting.

“We talk about the prevalence of guns in our community and the ease of access. We talk about the willingness to use those guns — and now, yet again, we’re talking about young people using guns against other young people,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at the scene. “It has to stop.”

The suspected shooter, Roger Alexander Alvarado-Mendoza, 23, was arrested in Texas while trying to flee the country, according to police. Officials said he was not a student at Patterson.

During Izaiah’s funeral service, several friends and loved ones — including fellow cadets in his Junior ROTC class — spoke about their loss. They described his quirky smile, goofy personality and caring demeanor. At the downtown restaurant where he recently started working, Izaiah was known for drinking Shirley Temples and keeping his coworkers laughing.

Hines takes comfort in hearing how her son had a positive influence on other people’s lives.

“But as I’m going through these stages of grief and my feelings are fluctuating, I keep getting stuck in the anger,” she said.

She’s angry about the lack of gun control in a country where shootings frequently claim the lives of young Black men. She’s angry at local elected officials for allowing massive systemic inequities to persist for generations in Baltimore, a deeply segregated city where violence remains heavily concentrated in majority-Black neighborhoods. And she’s angry that her family is suffering because of forces beyond her control.

“There has to be real change,” she said.

She also wonders whether Baltimore schools officials could have done more to protect Izaiah and other students. Hines said she’s considering moving to the suburbs, hoping to remove Izaiah’s younger brother and sister from the dangers of growing up in Baltimore.

A school district spokesperson didn’t respond to a recent request for comment, but Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises previously said Patterson High has effective security protocols in place.

“This shooting did not occur inside of the school building,” she told reporters at the homicide scene. “When young people want to find a way out, we cannot have our eyes everywhere at the same time.”

City leaders say change is happening, but not overnight.

During a news conference Monday, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said the city is working hard to address youth violence. He often touts Baltimore’s “dual approach” to public safety, which combines law enforcement action with social programs and other resources aimed at steering people toward alternatives to crime.

“We did not wait until now to do that deep work,” Scott said, describing ongoing efforts to bolster violence intervention resources within Baltimore public schools. He said officials have also discussed creating “safe passages” for students going to and from school.

Other cities have seen similar shootings and homicides soared nationwide.

Scott said it’s disturbing to see more young people solving conflicts with gunfire — even as Baltimore shootings and homicides have each decreased about 25% overall compared to this time last year, according to police.

Since the start of 2023, five children under 18 have been fatally shot and another 21 injured in gunfire, according to Baltimore police. Three were killed within blocks of their public high schools.

The year began with a Jan. 4 shooting that unfolded around lunchtime outside a Popeyes restaurant across the street from Edmondson-Westside High School in west Baltimore. One student died and four others were wounded. A child’s backpack was visible at the scene, surrounded by shell casings and evidence markers, with schoolwork peeking out from its unzipped pocket.

Police made an arrest last month in that case — a teen whose name hasn’t been released because he’s underage.

Hines said Izaiah was killed during a pivotal time in his life: caught between childhood and adulthood, his future still an open book.

After getting pregnant in high school, Hines pushed herself to graduate, finish college and launch a career in mental health — accomplishments she was proud to share with Izaiah and his two younger siblings. She hoped Izaiah would pursue military service after high school.

“I kept telling him, ‘You are not going to become a statistic. You are not just another Black boy in Baltimore city,’” she said. “But the gun violence, it’s so pervasive.”

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Stolen futures: Baltimore faces uptick in youth violence