In wake of two murders, city ready to deal with ‘hard questions’

TGD-Larry Allen Lamar Ennis-080515-5862

Larry Allen Lamar Ennis, 20, of Salisbury, is escorted into the Salisbury Police Department by Milt Rodriguez after he was taken into custody without incident by members of the US Marshals Capitol Aea Region Fugitive Task Force. Ennis was a basketball standout at both Wi-Hi and Delmar high schools. Rodriguez is part of the task force. (Todd Dudek Photo.)

As the community mourns the loss of two young men early this week, and three more face murder charges, Salisbury’s mayor is preparing to tackle what he called “the hard questions.”

This week, he was planning a public forum and meeting with Mary Ashanti, president of the Wicomico County NAACP, not because the killings present a race issue but, “regarding African-American males,” he said.

“Is this happening because there is no upward economic mobility for African-Americans? Forty-three percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line here in Salisbury compared to 23  percent of white residents.

“We have to ask the hard questions. Is any of this domestic related? Gang related? My question is, where did the shooter get a gun? Was it legal?” he said.

His questions were spurred by two murders that shocked the community this week. Just after midnight Sunday, 17-year-old Rakim Lamont Russell of Fruitland was killed in the parking lot of America’s Best Value Inn on North Salisbury Boulevard, after bullets flew from a car nearby. On Tuesday and Wednesday, police made three arrests.

Jarrett Vaughn Stokes and Ky’Shir Tariq Connally, both 18 and from Delmar, and Larry Allen Lamar Ennis, 20 of Salisbury, were each charged with first-degree murder and related crimes and are being held without bail.

Monday morning around 11:30, 21-year-old Dommeir D. Deshields of Church Street was shot to death as he walked in the Baker Street area. Police say they found no connection between the two homicides, but are not ruling out potential gang activity in the Russell case, said Police Chief Barbara Duncan.

Ireton said he’s proud Salisbury’s crime rate has been dropping, but has to wonder how —  as happened recently when a different crime was committed — an 8-year-old could be out late with older boys who were arrested.

“Yes, it’s terrible. Yes, it’s sad. But what do we do now? How do we get the 8-year-old back home?” Ireton said.

Some have complained youngsters get into trouble because the city doesn’t provide recreation.

“Whose job is that?” Ireton said. “And what if they want to sit in the house all day, playing video games, on their phones, on social media, and don’t want to get out and get involved in that recreation?”

Ireton said he’s hoping to schedule a public forum next week to discuss these problems and similar situations that have been tackled by the organization Cities United.

Based in Seattle, the nationwide initiative focuses on eliminating violence related to African American men and boys by sharing  practices and using innovative approaches.

Duncan said city leaders have been “working with a lot of different cultural ethnic groups from several neighborhoods, especially over the past four or five months.”

“We have a number of community organizations and civic groups that have recognized the same issues that law enforcement has recognized and they have reached out and  plugged in with the similar goal of helping our city be that vibrant, healthy city.

“There are leaders, plenty of adults, in this community, and we’re asking that they plug into this energy circulating right now, be part of it, regardless of race or ethnicity, and be the leaders our youth need, regardless of race,” Duncan said.

Among statistics Cities United circulates is that, every 24 hours in the U.S., 13 people younger than 25 are killed. The premise is that mayors “have the power and the responsibility to help end this senseless loss of life.”

Could Russell’s life have been saved if the City Council had implemented the curfew it has been discussing?

“It’s always easy to be that Monday morning quarterback, but in hindsight, when we analyze the curfew legislation, it possibly could have saved him,” Duncan said.

“The curfew isn’t all focused on those in our community who would be out late at night beyond curfew hours to do wrong, or engage in criminal activity. It is very much about keeping our kids safe and keeping our kids from becoming victims,” she said.

“I would like to see it moved along faster, but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water either. I want to see it done correctly. I certainly wouldn’t sacrifice speed for quality,” she said.

Ireton, though, said in some cases, “it’s the same kid getting picked up three times day” who breaks curfew.

“We are going to have to have a discussion with ourselves in the mirror. What do we see outside? What do we see happening to people’s sons and is that acceptable in the African-American race? Is it acceptable with any race?” Ireton said.

Dismay about the back-to-back murders has saturated the community.

Longtime Wicomico High School coach Butch Waller, who coached Ennis in basketball, said Friday feels “sad for Larry.”

“And, I’m discouraged with all the crimes being committed in Salisbury. This isn’t the town it used to be,” he said.

Waller never had serious trouble with the young man.  He met his mother at games and found her to be “one of the nicest women you could ever meet.”

On the court, Ennis, who was planning to attend college in the fall, could get overly excited, so Waller would talk to him and guide him. “But it’s the same thing with most kids. You can’t put an adult head on a teenager’s shoulders,” he reasoned.

Ennis was an outstanding player. On his Facebook page, there’s a newspaper article about a 2012 basketball game Wi-Hi won against the Boys Latin School. The score was 81-63.

“Hard work pays off,” Ennis wrote.

Court documents state Ennis was a backseat passenger the night Russell was killed, riding in a Chevrolet with Connally and Stokes. Stokes was reportedly in the front seat, also a passenger, and fired about four rounds from a semi-automatic handgun into the crowd gathered in the hotel parking lot.

Court documents state the three had been at the party earlier, but left after Ennis and Connally encountered some attendees behaving in a “hostile” manner toward them. Later, they joined Stokes.

They felt cowardly for leaving the party, court documents state, so had someone drive them back to the hotel. The source relayed hearing Stokes ask his two friends if the gun was “ready.” After the shooting, the car sped away, heading north. Court documents state Ennis began to panic and worry when the three men got calls and texts telling them Russell was dead.

Court documents state Connally and  Ennis, after Stokes left, talked about what they would tell police and where to hide the weapon.

Russell’s murder has hurt and angered those who knew him. Some young people were so upset by his loss that they shouted at police as they investigated, before any arrests were made, Duncan said.

“There was a lot of unrest with these juveniles, with these youths, who were incredibly angry. They said to our officers, ‘Go do your job. We’re  going to come after you if you don’t.’ That’s normal and natural considering all the stress,” she said.

Arrests were made rather quickly, following “and incredible amount of work,” the chief said.

“Everything else stopped. We found these guys and although we’re not at it 24-7 anymore, we’re not back to normal processes yet,” she said about the police department. Officers are still looking for witnesses and collecting evidence.

“The investigation into the Russell case is still very much open,” said Duncan, who spoke with his mother, Shanell Johnson, who lovingly called her son Roc.

“She is a strong woman,” Duncan said.

“She’s just beginning her struggle.”

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