Nick Mireles died in June, one of three people shot to death amid a neighborhood dispute that forced Annapolis to cope once again with a mass shooting.
Unlike the 2018 murders of my five friends at Capital Gazette, the deaths of Mireles, his stepson Mario Mireles, and family friend Christian Segovia barely registered on the national consciousness. It wasn’t an attack on a free press. It was just one more entry in the growing list of more than 500 mass shootings this year.
The survivors of that Sunday night gunfire on Paddington Place weren’t at the front of an Independence Day parade down Main Street, as the local newspaper staff members were, or shown on the cover of Time magazine as defenders of a free press. No one has raised $1 million to help them, as the community did for the families and survivors of the mass shooting five years ago.
Who helps when lives are shattered by everyday gun violence? When death arrives at your doorstep, who helps you make the next day seem possible?
On Oct. 10, two small organizations will ask Annapolis residents that question again.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Ministry and the Marshall Hope Corporation want to raise $247,000 to keep Nick Mireles’ family in their Odenton home.
Mireles, 55, left behind a wife, Sandra Mireles-Perez, and eight children, and the house they were renting from a friend. Sandra, who has stayed at home to raise their children, is facing an uncertain future without help.
“The house where they live is where their father came home and brought them cookies and treats after work,” said Susie Cruz, director of families for Our Lady of Guadalupe Ministry at St. Mary’s Parish.
“If we don’t help them,” she added, “I don’t think she’s going to be able to pay rent to keep the house where they feel the love of their father.”
This is what happens when someone dies in a shooting. There are quiet efforts to help — grassroots campaigns unnoticed outside of a small circle of family and friends. It’s not a big, dramatic push.
After Alexandra Abbot Huff, 34, and George Michael Petrullo, 38, were shot to death in Annapolis by Huff’s husband, who killed himself afterward, friends set up drives to help the victims’ children.
The campaigns raised $115,000 for the Huff children and $57,000 for Petrullo’s wife and kids.
Sometimes it’s not about staying where you are.
When 16-year-old Robert Clark was fatally shot by unknown gunmen on the doorstep of his home in Annapolis’ Bywater neighborhood, his mother asked for help with funeral expenses. Latarsha Ayer used the same fundraising platform, GoFundMe, asking for $19,000. She raised just $11,340.
Now Ayer is living in her car with her two remaining children, desperately hoping for a housing voucher that will let them find an affordable home outside Annapolis.
“For Christ’s sake, I saw my son die right in front of the house,” she said.
Ayer is worried that whoever killed her son and wounded another teenager — police have made no arrests — will target her or her other children.
“I talk to the police and their whole focus is, ‘Do you know who did this?’ and not about my safety,” Ayer said. “I’m like, do your job. I repeat this every day: I’m in fear for my life; my children’s life.”
Alderman Dajuan Gay and city Social Work Care Coordinator Erin Lee are trying to help Ayer and the mother of the 17-year-old wounded in the same attack; she has 10 other children and is asking for help as well.
“We’ve been trying to assist them,” Gay said.
Since joining the council in 2019, Gay has been a leading advocate for people affected by gun violence and other crimes.
Historically, there are four to five homicides a year in Annapolis. Some years, like this one, there are twice as many. Most happen in a few low-income neighborhoods, like the ones represented by Gay.
The city of Annapolis has improved efforts to help, hiring Lee and setting up funds to assist crime victims with basic necessities, offering up to $3,000 in grants for rent assistance. That’s not much in an area where a one-bedroom apartment can start at $1,800 a month.
“I have not known the city to make much of an effort to help until lately,” Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson said. “That can be attributed to Dajuan Gay. He makes it his responsibility to help people affected by this.”
But Gay knew of no public efforts to help the family of 18-year-old Reco Ramon Johnson, the first person shot to death in Annapolis this year. He left behind a daughter.
It’s the same for Ray Ray Johnson, a Severna Park man who was killed by gunfire. He left behind three children.
There is no sign that any fundraising drive was launched after the death of Amari Tydings, a 24-year-old woman who police say was caught in the crossfire of someone else’s dispute. She left behind a daughter.
“I was trying to help her find rental assistance when she was killed,” Gay said. “I’ve not heard from her family since then.”
Police often point victims of crime to county and state agencies. The State’s Attorney’s Office offers help through a statewide program run by the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association, assisting with relocation or travel expenses.
“People think we can relocate anybody,” State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said. “It has to be a direct threat.”
The Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board can offer broader financial assistance. In fiscal year 2022, the state paid out $2 million to crime victims, half of them in Baltimore City.
The efforts only go so far. The 208 cases where survivors of homicide victims got help represented less than half the number of victims recorded statewide.
Help from the surrounding community is more immediate and direct. It just has limits.
“The community where I live, they have been very, very helpful,” Ayer said. “They’ve done what they could, but everybody is struggling right now.”
That’s true for the victims of the June 11 mass shooting, too. All were Latino, and prosecutors brought hate crime charges against the man arrested in the killings and wounding of three others. Police said the dispute that night was over parking, but was the culmination of a yearslong conflict between the families.
Most of the outreach that followed came from the immigrant community.
“The Hispanic community really tried to wrap around them at the beginning,” said Janice Keating, a board member at Marshall Hope. “But they are not an organized group.”
A friend of the Mireles family is helping to keep Nick Mireles’ landscaping business afloat. Law enforcement officials took Nick’s mobile phone, which contained his client list, as part of evidence collection. Until it is returned, the friend is trying to keep services going from memory.
It wasn’t just Nick Mireles’ family that needed help. Our Lady of Guadalupe helped pay for the funerals, and Marshall Hope helped find scarce counseling services for the children, including the two who saw their father shot to death. Volunteers helped Segovia’s pregnant fiancée move from a third-floor apartment.
GoFundMe accounts were set up to help Segovia’s family and Mario Mireles’ fiancée. Together they raised more than $100,000.
They didn’t help Nick Mireles’ family. It is their home in Odenton that is most at risk now.
Frank Derwin rented the house to Mireles, a former employee he’d helped set up his own business. Derwin agreed to sell the house to him last year for $257,000 under an installment plan. In September, he agreed to stick to that deal even though his friend had died.
“It is my intention to honor that agreement for the family,” he wrote in a letter. “In addition, I intend to reduce the price to $247,000 in the event a purchase is made in the next year.”
That led to the fundraiser, called Annapolis Hope. It kicks off with a $100-per-ticket event at the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park. Cruz and Keating hope to cover the cost of buying the house.
What happens next, as it is after every shooting in a small town, is up to all of us.
“I think if we let the community know what we’re trying to do to help them, they will show some of the love that human beings have for other human beings,” Cruz said. “No Institution or nonprofit is going to be able to help them.”