Aijah Gatson was at home in Southwest Baltimore when her mother, Annette Blake, called at 6 o’clock in the morning.
Gatson, 31, recalled being confused about what she was hearing, that her 15-year-old son might be “locked up for murder.” She said she hadn’t seen him in a few days — not since he went to spend time with his father. So she called him and found out that the two were at the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit.
Police, she learned, were alleging that her son on July 7 shot and killed a man who confronted a group of squeegee workers with a metal baseball bat near the Inner Harbor.
At first, Gatson said, she didn’t believe it. Two days later, though, she said she couldn’t breathe and started hyperventilating and crying.
Gatson is grappling with how her son — a rising sophomore at Digital Harbor High School whom loved ones described as intelligent, playful and outgoing — now faces adult charges that could result in life in prison. Prosecutors allege he acted with premeditation and committed first-degree murder.
The Baltimore Banner is not naming the teen because he is awaiting a determination on whether the matter should be adjudicated in the juvenile justice system, which would result in the case and his identity being permanently sealed.
“I just feel like I’m floating through life right now,” Gatson said in an interview at McKeldin Square, where protesters days earlier had called for the state to drop the charges. “Life is just going. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
‘He felt like he was doing a service’
The boy was born in the summer of 2007, at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Gatson was 16. The child’s father was 21. She later had two more boys, who are now 9 and 12.
Her oldest son spent many of his first 18 months in a full-body cast, Gatson said. She’d fallen down the steps with him on her hip, and he broke his left leg.
When he was 2, Gatson said, she and the boy’s father split up. She and her children later moved to Hinesville, Georgia, before returning to the city.
Gatson resettled in East Baltimore, where she lived across the street from a car lot. She said her son started selling bottled water and snowballs when he was 7 with his cousins on the sidewalk out front. That wasn’t out of necessity; he just liked to do activities, she said.
In third grade, Gatson said, her son got involved in robotics, once taking part in a competition with students from across Maryland. That’s why he asked her to go to Digital Harbor High School, she said.
Gatson said her son loves science and math and is good with numbers. At the same time, she said, he’d blow off gym.
Her son was about 9 when he first told Gatson that he wanted to be an engineer. He learned about the field from his uncle, James, who’s an engineer.
They briefly moved to Annapolis.
Gatson guesses that her son saw others squeegeeing for money when he used to sell bottled water outside the car lot. To her knowledge, she said, her son joined in at 12 or 13.
Soon, he was squeegeeing every day after school. Gatson said she suspected he sometimes went before school, too, as he occasionally left the house at 5 a.m.
“I think in his mind, he did it to help out,” said Gatson, a certified nursing assistant. He’d sometimes tell her, “I’ll give you $500 towards the bills, if you need it.” But she’d never take the money.
So he’d find other ways to use it to help, she said. If one of his brothers ate the last slice of bread, he’d go get some more. He’d buy video games for his siblings, or give them a couple dollars in spending money. On weekends, he’d sometimes take his little brothers and cousins swimming.
That’s who her son is as a person, Gatson said. He looks out for everyone.
When he had money left over, she said, he liked to buy underwear that cost $30 for one pair. He bought shoes he wanted, too.
Squeegeeing, Gatson said, allowed him to have money in his pocket whenever he or his brothers wanted anything.
It was also just a productive activity to do, Gatson said. “I guess he felt like it was something good. He felt like he was doing a service, and he sometimes get paid for it, sometimes he don’t.”
He’d walk in with the same smile on his face, whether he made $2 or $200, Gatson said.
Besides selling bottled water and squeegeeing, Gatson said, her son loved playing football and basketball. He wrote and recorded his own rap songs, as well, and often went to music studios around the city. He also likes to read.
‘It’s like a hole in my house’
The teen is playful and silly, said his great-aunt, Janice Gatson, 58, of Parkville. Every time she saw him, she said, she knew he’d do something to make her laugh.
He’d walk into her house and ask, “What you got in here to eat?” Recently, he spotted her in the Inner Harbor and rode circles around her on his scooter. “Auntie, it’s me!” he said.
He was a comedian, his mother agreed. It’s not as much his jokes, but his aura, Aijah Gatson said.
But now, “It’s like a hole in my house,” she said. “It’s his whole energy. He would liven up everything. He likes to be in the spotlight.”
The boy’s best friend, Chakai Washington, 15, said he’d keep her laughing all day. He liked attention, she said.
They became friends during the first week of ninth grade, she said. At first, they got into an argument. “But after that day,” she’d said, “oh yeah that’s my best friend.”
They’d do everything together, she said. They’d ride scooters, squeegee, go to cookouts and listen to music.
“Oh my God I miss him so bad,” she said. “I don’t like reminiscing. I want him to be here, so we can still be doing what we doing.”
‘I don’t know what’s going on’
On July 6, Gatson said, her son wanted to spend time with his father.
The teen was trying to save up money to pay for an Airbnb to celebrate his 15th birthday — something that some of the adults in the family would do to enjoy their own. “He was saying it all month,” Gatson said. “He was saying it every day, ‘Ma, I’m going to get my own Airbnb.’”
She let him go.
Police allege that, on the next day, the teen was among a group of young people squeegeeing windows at the intersection of Light and Conway streets.
That’s when a driver, Timothy Reynolds, had “some type of interaction” that became heated with them, police reported.
Reynolds drove through the intersection, parked his vehicle, crossed the street while carrying a bat and walked back toward the youth, according to eyewitness statements and preliminary information from law enforcement.
Dashcam video captured the end of the encounter, starting with Reynolds walking away from the intersection while pointing a bat at three squeegee workers. Reynolds walks in front of a car and out of view of the camera. That’s when squeegee workers “seemingly surround him,” according to a description of the video in a police report.
Later, Reynolds swings while running toward the youth. One appears to strike him in the head while he has the bat raised toward another squeegee worker. That person then pulls out a handgun and fires while running away.
Reynolds, an engineer and father of three who lived in Hampden, was pronounced dead at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland. He was 48.
A GoFundMe has raised almost $70,000 for Reynolds’ family. They have asked for privacy.
Detectives arrested a teenager one week later at a home in Essex. He was 14 at the time of the shooting, and turned 15 the next day.
In Maryland, children who are 14 or older that are charged with offenses such as first-degree murder — which carries a potential sentence of up to life in prison — begin in the adult court system. Under state law, people have a duty to retreat before using deadly force.
The teen’s attorneys, J. Wyndal Gordon and Warren Brown, have said they intend to file a motion to transfer the case to juvenile court, which focuses on rehabilitation versus punishment and would have jurisdiction until the accused turns 21.
Gordon said he did not believe the shooter should face murder charges, noting that there is no duty to retreat when it’s unsafe or the “avenue of escape is unknown.”
“I do believe that the shooter honestly and reasonably believed that he was in imminent or immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury,” Gordon said at a news conference. “I think ultimately the facts are going to show that this is a case of what we call perfect self-defense.”
Brown said their client has “no history with the system,” describing the case as a “sad situation for everybody.”
The teen’s father, Tavon Scott Sr., briefly spoke, telling reporters, “He’s not a squeegee kid. He’s a child, with feelings. That’s my child.”
Scott could not be reached for comment. But on a GoFundMe, he described his son as a gifted, young entrepreneur who wanted to start his own business — not a menace to society.
The shooting reignited debate over what, if anything, elected officials should do about squeegee workers, a phenomenon that dates to the 1980s. Some believe that the youth pose a danger and deter people from visiting the city. Others, though, praise their enterprising spirit and report having no issues with them.
Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee recently held a hearing to discuss what it called the “squeegee issue.”
The presumptive next state’s attorney, Ivan Bates, said squeegee workers “cannot be there,” stating that it’s not safe for them or drivers. He’s proposed creating a community court, where youth cited for low-level offenses can agree to take part in a diversionary program or, as a last resort, face prosecution.
Despite calls to drop or reduce the charges against the teen, a Baltimore grand jury last week indicted him on counts including first-degree murder. He’s being held without bail.
Gatson said she does not understand how police picked out her son. She said she had never seen him with a gun or knew where he could’ve obtained one. The boy, she said, was not allowed to bring even a BB gun or toy gun into her home.
Regardless of what happened, Gatson said, it’s horrible. She said she does not believe that anyone should’ve lost their life.
“Right now, I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I don’t know what to think.”
Gatson said she just needs to help her son. That’s all, she said, she knows.