A vigil honoring the life and legacy of Ernest Hall brought a diverse crowd to the Lightning Quick Fit Boxing Club on Morton Street in Mount Vernon last night to remember the Baltimore boxer who was shot and killed in West Baltimore.

More than 100 people packed the parking lot of the gym that Hall opened and ran as a myriad of multicolored balloons were released skyward, with the somber, mournful Rose Royce song, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” coming out of the speakers. Large gold balloons spelling out “Ernie” were to the left of the gym entrance, in front of a lighted candle arrangement that spelled out Hall’s nickname, “E-Bug.”

Hall, a 32-year-old father of three who had worked in local restaurants and was preparing for a junior featherweight bout scheduled for April 1 died Thursday morning. Police responded to a ShotSpotter alert just after midnight and discovered six people had been shot in the 2800 block of Edmondson Avenue. Hall was pronounced dead at the scene.

Friends and family of boxer Ernie "Lightening Bug" Hall attend a candlelight vigil at his gym, Lightning Quick Fit in Mount Vernon.
Friends and family of boxer Ernie “Lightning Bug” Hall attend a candlelight vigil at his gym, Lightning Quick Fit in Mount Vernon. (J.M. Giordano/for the Baltimore Banner)

No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting. Four of the other victims, including a 15-year-old boy, were taken to area hospitals and listed in stable condition; a fifth victim was hospitalized in critical condition.

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“You see over a hundred people here, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, folks from the county and the city, all of whom are extremely sad because this is a huge loss to the city and the community,” said City Council President Nick Mosby, who was among the throngs in attendance. “When you look at Ernie, his life and what he lived for, which was encouraging and building up people’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem through physical fitness, opening up this gym to people whether they could afford a membership fee or not, that’s just who he was. This is such a tremendous and tragic loss.”

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When examining Hall’s life, it’s not hard to see where he acquired his desire to help others. His father, Joel Johnson, was working at Walmart 20 years ago when he got a call from his wife, telling him about a 12-year-old kid down at the courthouse who was about to be sent to a juvenile justice facility. The young man’s parents had abandoned him years ago and he’d been surviving on the streets in the employ of a local drug gang.

“My wife told me that if he didn’t have any parents to claim him that they were going to lock him up,” said Johnson during Tuesday’s vigil. “She asked me, ‘Can we adopt him?’ I told her, ‘If that’s what you want to do, we’ll make him one of ours.”

The family was already struggling with four kids of their own, but they couldn’t stomach the thought of what this young man’s future held if they didn’t intervene. So they adopted him.

“Ernie had all this energy and didn’t know what to do with himself,” said Johnson. “He was all over the place and getting into a lot of trouble, but he wasn’t a bad person, he’d just been conditioned to emulate the wrong people in a bad environment.”

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What the Johnsons lacked in monetary resources, they more than made up for it with the love and care that they poured into Hall. When Hall discovered his love of boxing in his late teens, that’s when his life trajectory took off in ways that even Johnson could not have imagined.

“We gifted him with the core feeling of trying to be the best at whatever he did,” Johnson said. “I never thought in a million years that he would take it this far,” he said while pointing towards the boxing facility. “He loved kids, he was a physical fitness nut and when boxing took his heart, he shared it with everybody that he came across.”

When they found the space on 1000 Morton Street, Johnson and Hall immediately went to work. Johnson, who learned his construction, carpentry and building skills from his father and grandfather, started knocking out walls.

“When we first walked in here, the place was empty,” said Johnson. “We tore down the walls and I built everything by hand, from scratch, the ring, the speed bags and all of the equipment you see around here. We looked at how much everything costed online and I said, ‘Bump this, we can do all of this on our own.”

Friends and family of boxer Ernie “Lightning Bug” Hall launch balloons during a vigil at his gym, Lightning Quick Fit in Mount Vernon. (J.M. Giordano/for the Baltimore Banner)

The father and son would make hundreds of trips to local dump sites, using the scraps that other work crews left behind. For example, the railings on the steps behind the ring are fashioned from cut up pieces that were formerly bed frames.

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“Ernie nicknamed me Joe The Builder because he loved to watch that show, Bob the Builder,” said Johnson. “He’d always tell me, ‘Man, there ain’t nothing that you can’t build!’ I’d tell him that you might not always succeed at something, but the worst thing you can ever do is not to try.”

When the membership fees couldn’t cover the monthly rent for the space, Hall would find a way to get it done out of his own pocket. It was a constant struggle to stay above water, but often told his friends, family and fellow coaches, “I’m not doing this for the money, so long as people are coming I’m going to do whatever I can to keep these doors open.”

Johnson is still reeling from the loss of his son, and especially in the manner that it happened. A Baltimore native with a record of 4-2-1 with 1 knockout, Hall had been in training to fight John Leonardo in New Jersey. Those who knew and loved Hall saw the bout as a chance for him to advance his career as a professional fighter. Instead, they are left mourning his loss.

“I can’t describe the pain of losing a child in this manner,” said Johnson. “A lot of people want to find the people responsible for this and do some real harm to them. But Ernie wouldn’t want anyone to seek vengeance against the people that murdered him. That’s not what he promoted. He’d want you to continue on with what he started and what he was doing, and that was being a positive person that was dedicated to helping and uplifting others.”

In the hours after Hall’s death, Marigot Miller, who owns and runs the popular Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill along with her husband Russ, was in a meeting when she received the news.

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Hall’s death is hitting especially hard at the Abbey Burger, where he worked for many years as a barback and bartender.

“Ernie didn’t have a lot of restaurant experience when he came to us but he was an extremely hard worker and a go-getter,” Miller said. “Whatever needed to be done, he’d rise to the occasion and was eager to take on new and challenging tasks, often saying, ‘I want to learn it all.’”

“I was very proud of him,” Miller continued. “He was doing great things. He had the most positive energy, worked incredibly hard and was dependable. He was all about being a good father to his children and giving back to his community while projecting positivity. This just doesn’t feel real to me. He was such a beautiful person with a caring, sharing spirit.”

Miller noted that Hall used the sport that he loved, boxing, to help others. She beamed with pride when learning about what he was doing with his Lightning Quick Fit boxing club, offering classes to kids and women that would not only teach them boxing skills, but would also increase their level of physical fitness and build up their confidence and self-esteem.

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Damien Ford, a teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts, would see Hall often in the mornings when he’d stop into his favorite coffee shop, Baby’s on Fire in Mount Vernon. Ford knew that Hall trained his barber and a few others in the barbershop that he frequents. The two would share brief pleasantries before Ford would head down the street to work.

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“I’ve seen Ernie out there early in the morning, training kids, having them run laps around the block,” said Ford. “One day, this young man who couldn’t have been more than 6 was out there running laps. I don’t know if it was for training or some type of behavioral modification, but he was experiencing some physical discomfort. And just watching how Ernie talked to him and encouraged him made me smile.”

“He didn’t talk to the kid in a baby-fied voice or a stern voice, he kneeled down to be on his level, looking him in the eye, speaking to him in a motivational, mentoring and caring voice,” Ford continued. “I’ve seen him doing the same with older folks, particularly Black women. I thought that was a really good look, what he was doing for the neighborhood and individuals. Ernie was one of these unsung heroes in Baltimore that was a living testament to what he believed in and he unselfishly shared that with others.”

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When Hall left the Abbey Burger to take a position at The Bygone, the ritzy and exclusive rooftop restaurant that sits on the 29th floor of the Four Seasons hotel in Harbor East, he reached out to Miller to thank her.

“He told me, ‘You guys took a chance on me, believed in me and gave me an opportunity to learn and to better myself. I’m so thankful for that,’” said Miller.

This past Halloween, Hall could be seen running around downtown Baltimore in a Flash superhero suit, handing out candy to every kid he came across.

“Ernie’s vision for this city was to make sure that all of the kids were safe,” said Johnson. “He touched so many people’s hearts. And no matter what he was struggling with in life, ever since we first brought him home, that boy never stopped smiling. He even smiled in his sleep.”

alejandro.danois@thebaltimorebanner.com

Alejandro Danois was a sports writer for The Banner. He specializes in long-form storytelling, looking at society through the prism of sports and its larger connections with the greater cultural milieu. The author of The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, he is also a film producer and cultural critic. 

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