Kids in the Westport community looked up to Jaylen Richards. He was a leader. He was independent. He was fun to be around.
And “he really could have been somebody,” said Ronald Hammond, a Westport community member who frequently saw Richards around the area, always with a smile on his face.
But Richards’ life was cut short on Saturday night. At around 8:57 p.m., police found him shot multiple times in the chest in the 2400 block of Hollins Ferry Road. He was transported to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and pronounced dead from his injuries around 10:30 p.m.
Richards was shot on Maisel Court but ran a block to Hollins Ferry Road, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at a press conference Saturday night. Police identified him Monday morning. The area is less than a half mile from Westport Academy, where Richards was enrolled as a sixth grader, according to Baltimore City Public Schools spokesperson Sherry Christian.
In the days following, family, friends and strangers have poured support for Richards — who they call “J Rock” — on social media. What happened hurt a lot of people in the community, Hammond said. He hasn’t seen many kids outside since the shooting. They are devastated, he said.
The gun used in the shooting appeared to have been an assault-style rifle based on casings found on the scene, Harrison said.
“Weapons that are used in war, and weapons that should only be used in war, are being used on American streets, the streets of Baltimore,” Harrison said, as the mayor denounced the perpetrator’s access to such a powerful firearm.
“We have to continue to focus on every single aspect of this gun violence,” Scott said. “We will not accept this.”
Richards called him “Uncle,” Hammond remembers, though they weren’t related. Hammond thought of him as a little brother. Richards never sat still, and was always doing something. He played football at one point, and was very competitive. He always wanted to be “the little head guy,” and he was a leader on and off the field, Hammond said. “You can tell how the people that be around him, they listen to the things he say,” he said.
Richards was the intended target of the shooting, a BPD spokesperson told The Banner Monday. Harrison had originally said on Saturday night that it was “uncertain” whether he was.
Saturday’s fatal shooting is the latest in a wave of gun violence among teenagers that has only worsened in recent months. The first three months of this year have marked the deadliest start to a year for Baltimore teens since at least 2015.
Nearly one in three people shot in 2023 were 18 or younger, even as nonfatal shootings and homicides in the city have receded. Since the start of the 2022 school year, two dozen high school-age teens have been shot within approximately two blocks of 16 different schools, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis.
Last week, Scott announced Baltimore would be “going back to the old days” to resume enforcement of a youth curfew law that has been on the books in the city for at least 20 years, but has been enforced only sporadically, citing a commitment to keeping young people safe.
Scott said the city would ramp up enforcement as the weather warms up, but did not provide a specific date. Youth Connection Centers, where law enforcement can drop off kids they catch out after hours, will be rolled out starting Memorial Day.
Research on curfews in other cities, however, have found the policy to be largely ineffective. Saturday night’s shooting came just before the planned curfew hours, which would require kids younger than 14 years old to be home by 9 p.m.
Baltimore Banner reporter Emily Sullivan contributed to this article.