A 31-year-old woman and a young boy were shot in the head Thursday, becoming Baltimore’s 37th and 38th homicide victims so far this month, the city’s deadliest in 15 years.
The most recent killings claimed the lives of Jennifer Jeffrey and her seven-year-old son, Kester Anthony Browne. They were identified by Jeffrey’s sister, Danielle Wilder.
Jeffrey and her son were found dead early Thursday, each from gunshot wounds to the head.
As family members cried and held each other on the quiet, leafy block in Southwest Baltimore where they lived, Wilder said she felt as if “my heart has been ripped out.”
Wilder said a neighbor called their other sister early Thursday, concerned that she hadn’t hear any noise coming from Jeffrey’s house: no footsteps, Wilder said, no voices, and no gunshots. But when her brother let himself into the house to check on the mother and son, he discovered their bodies.
“She was in the living room,” Wilder said. “The baby was upstairs, in the bed.”
Wilder said police told her there were no signs of forced entry, and that whoever killed Jeffrey and Browne were let into the house sometime yesterday. Wilder said she thinks whoever killed Jeffrey, who also lived with her niece and grand-niece, wanted to catch her alone, and that the boy was collateral damage.
Thursday’s deaths continue a grisly and dramatic uptick in murders across Baltimore that has so far claimed the lives of 38 people. Meanwhile, arrests have plunged: Police are booking fewer than half the number of people they pulled off the streets last year.
Arrests were already declining before Freddie Gray died on April 19 of injuries he suffered in police custody, but they dropped sharply thereafter, as his death unleashed protests, riots, the criminal indictment of six officers and a full-on civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department that has officers working under close scrutiny.
“I’m afraid to go outside,” said Antoinette Perrine, whose brother was shot down three weeks ago on a basketball court near her home in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore. Ever since, she has barricaded her door and added metal slabs inside her windows to deflect gunfire.
“It’s so bad, people are afraid to let their kids outside,” Perrine said. “People wake up with shots through their windows. Police used to sit on every corner, on the top of the block. These days? They’re nowhere.”
West Baltimore residents worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them, leaving some neighborhoods like the Wild West without a lawman around.
“Before it was over-policing. Now there’s no police,” said Donnail “Dreads” Lee, 34, who lives in the Gilmor Homes, the public housing complex where Gray, 25, was chased down. “People feel as though they can do things and get away with it. I see people walking with guns almost every single day, because they know the police aren’t pulling them up like they used to.”
The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 on Thursday posted a statement from President Gene Ryan on social media saying that the police are “under siege.”
“The criminals are taking advantage of the situation in Baltimore since the unrest,” Ryan wrote. “(Police) are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty.”
Protesters said Gray’s death is emblematic of a pattern of police violence and brutality against impoverished African-Americans in Baltimore.
The 38 homicides so far in May is a major spike, after 22 in April, 15 in March, 13 in February and 23 in January.
With one weekend still to go, May 2015 is already the deadliest month in 15 years, surpassing the November 1999 total of 36.
Ten of May’s homicides happened in the Western District, which has had as many homicides in the first five months of this year as it did all of last year.
Non-fatal shootings are spiking as well — 91 so far in May, 58 of them in the Western District.
The mayor said her office is “examining” the relationship between the homicide spike and the dwindling arrest rate.