Family members of an Edmondson-Westside High School sophomore who was killed in a mass shooting called on Thursday for sweeping changes at the shopping strip in West Baltimore where the homicide took place and for police to dedicate as many resources to solving the case as they would if it happened in a whiter, more affluent neighborhood.
Speaking at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, Thiru Vignarajah, an advocate for Deanta Dorsey’s parents and family members, said that it was not the first news conference he had held there over a young man being shot in the area. He decried the strip as having long been an “open-air drug market,” adding that he does not want it to become an “epicenter of violence.”
Vignarajah emphasized on behalf of family members that they want law enforcement to treat the shooting as if it took place in Canton, Federal Hill or the Inner Harbor.
He described the teen as a sweet, hardworking child who loved his family. In social media tributes, friends and loved ones mourned the loss of a young man with a contagious grin they called “Dink” in posts and comments with the hashtag “#foreverdink.” One classmate described him as a quiet child who kept to himself.
“Please, please, on behalf of this family, do not forget this beautiful boy,” said Vignarajah, who has previously run for Baltimore state’s attorney and mayor.
Dorsey’s aunt, Linda, who declined to provide her last name, thanked people for their prayers and encouraging words.
“We ask for the neighborhood to continue — the community to continue — to pray for each and every one of the families,” she said. “We are very heartbroken, and we’re trying to get through this the best way that we can.”
Five people were shot before 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday outside the Popeyes in the Edmondson Village Shopping Center in Baltimore, which is across the street from Edmonson-Westside High School. Dorsey was later pronounced dead at a hospital. He was 16.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said law enforcement believes that two shooters opened fire on the group as they stood outside the fast food restaurant. Baltimore City Public Schools dismissed students at the high school at the normal time of 2:50 p.m. but canceled sports and after-school activities as well as classes the next day.
Mayor Brandon Scott and City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said businesses in the shopping center have been asked not to serve students during school hours. Baltimore also has a curfew in place for those younger than 16 at businesses and public places during those times.
The Edmondson Village Shopping Center first opened in 1947 and has experienced two fires in recent years that led to some renovations as well as parts of the building being removed.
Several people in the community want to see the shopping center completely renovated. But there is a covenant — or a contractual agreement that details how land can be used — that dates to 1945 and puts restrictions on the complex and other neighboring parcels.
A developer, Chicago TREND, has a contract to buy the shopping center on the condition that parts of the covenant are amended.
Vignarajah referenced at the news conference the deadly shooting of Delmonte Keels, 16, which happened about one mile away from the shopping center on the 700 block of North Edgewood Street on Oct. 6, 2021.
Police said in the afternoon that they could not provide an update to the press or family members. Detectives were working the streets nearby as cameras rolled at the news conference. It was unclear when law enforcement would have more details to share.
Monique Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, said she felt like she has failed her community in light of the mass shooting.
She said the group has held several meetings with school leaders and warned them that “if you don’t get some kind of consequences set up for these kids, something’s going to happen.” The principal, Karl Perry, has asked surrounding businesses not to serve students during school hours, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said.
In a statement, Sherry Christian, a spokesperson for Baltimore City Public Schools, said though it is the responsibility of the administration to enforce policies including attendance and early dismissal, the system “relies on the surrounding community to help us provide the protection and support our children and families need.”
Christian said the system has a requirement that students stay on campus during school hours.
“Schools proactively communicate this to families and students, as Edmondson has done repeatedly throughout the year including just recently in December,” Christian said.
Meanwhile, Washington said, she had also asked people in the community to bombard a corporate hotline for Popeyes with complaints. Something, she said, needs to be done.
In a statement, Popeyes said it will closely work with local leaders and respect their wishes not to serve students during the school day. “Although no one from our restaurant in the shopping center was involved, we closed for the day to allow our team members to go home given the tragic events in the parking lot outside,” the statement continued.
Washington said she neither knew the whole story nor wanted to speculate about what happened. She called for people with information about the mass shooting to come forward.
“To the family, we have you in prayer,” Washington said. “And as your community leader, I will fight as hard as I can to make sure that you get the justice that you deserve.”
Baltimore Banner staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this report.