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Friday, November 20, 2009


Woman shot at boyfriend's funeral

Woman, 34, fatally shot at boyfriend's funeral gathering

City detectives believe incident connected to earlier slaying, but motive unclear

Bullet hole A woman was fatally shot Thursday night outside this West Baltimore funeral home, where she was attending a private family gathering for her boyfriend, who was killed last week, police said. (Baltimore Sun photo by Justin Fenton / November 20, 2009)


Justin Fenton 

Baltimore Sun

12:20 p.m. EST, November 20, 2009


Joseph H. Brown III's business is death.

A fourth-generation mortician, he directs the largest funeral facility in Baltimore and handles services for at least two or three city homicide victims per month.

Families of victims gunned down in the streets go to his West Baltimore business to find solace.

On Thursday night, the funeral home became a crime scene when a 34-year-old woman was shot and killed while stepping outside of a viewing for her boyfriend -- a 51-year-old man who had been shot and killed a week earlier.

Standing just beyond the crime scene tape in a light drizzle, an older man passing through the area watched as detectives gathered evidence.

"Some things supposed to be sacrosanct," he said.

But they aren't, Brown said as he sipped coffee outside of his business Friday morning, a bullet hole marring the glass vestibule. A few steps away, a man wearing gloves and plastic boots used bleach in an attempt to clean up blood from the sidewalk. It's not gone, but it's better, he told Brown.

"That's gone out the window," Brown said of respect for funerals. "This has become a fact of life as much here in Baltimore as it is in Afghanistan, Iraq and anywhere else. There's many wars going on in the world, and this just happens to be one of the wars in our community."

The irony, Brown said, is that Baltimore's high death toll helps fuel the funeral home industry here. He said members of his staff become "master embalmers," adept at taking victims who suffered gunshot wounds to the head and making them presentable for an open casket. His ability to restore a lifelike appearance that doesn't show any indication of the deceased's tragic demise is a point of pride.

"But when it happens right outside your door, it brings it really, really close to home," Brown said.

The shooting was at least the second time someone has opened fire on a West Baltimore funeral service in the past two years. In April 2008, two people were shot outside the Unity Methodist Church, where about 300 mourners had gathered to view the body of a 26-year-old who had been killed in a triple shooting. In 2001, a man was shot at while leaving a viewing for his brother at Wylie Funeral Home.

With tensions running high, police often send a uniformed or plainclothes presence to keep watch outside funerals. Brown said he has a retired city police officer who works security and was at the facility last night when the shots rang out, leaving him to wonder what else he could do to better safeguard mourners and his staff from brazen gunmen.

"We've worked very hard in building this business, and to have something happen like this, it does shake my confidence," he said. "It shakes my confidence in how well we are protected, or insulated [from the city violence]. Is my staff going to be OK? Will they catch a stray bullet? I feel very vulnerable right now."

About a dozen people had gathered for services for Michael Anthony McFadden, who was shot to death Nov. 12 near his home, in the 2000 block of W. Lanvale St., police said. It was one of two services taking place at the 16,000-square-foot facility Thursday night.

Police said his girlfriend, Virginia McGhee, received a phone call about 7:30 p.m. and stepped outside, where she was shot in the chest by an unknown assailant. Police are investigating whether she was lured outside, or whether her attacker was waiting and seized the opportunity.

Detectives believe the two shootings are connected, but a motive was unclear. A man who had been standing in the vestibule of the funeral home was also treated for a gunshot wound to his arm, according to police.

Like much of the city's violence, officials believe drugs could be at the root of the shootings. McFadden pleaded guilty to a drug distribution charge in October 2007, receiving a four-year suspended prison sentence, and he has several prior drug-related arrests. McGhee, who court records show shared an address with McFadden, pleaded guilty to a second-degree assault charge in October 2008, receiving a five-year suspended prison sentence, and last month was charged with violating her probation.

Relatives planned to follow through with McFadden's funeral. As Brown's staff worked to clean up the area outside, McFadden's sister was inside paying the bill. She declined to speak with a reporter. Brown said he expected hundreds of people to attend the service, each passing by the bullet hole in the front vestibule. He's unlikely to be able to replace the glass today.

"That will be a reminder to everybody that comes into this funeral home today of what happened," he said. "This is something none of us will ever, ever forget."

                              LINK TO VIDEO,0,4150914.story

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