By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Less than 18 hours into the new year, Baltimore recorded its first two murders.

At the first shooting in the 2000 block of Eagle St., detectives placed evidence markers at the corner. Firefighters later washed blood from the sidewalk. The violence wasn’t the start to 2018 that a group of mothers envisioned.

Daphne Alston co-founded Mothers of Murdered Sons after the killing of her son, Tariq, in Harford County 10 years ago.

“It’s not a numbers game. It’s not a game we’re playing, a video. This is real human life here,” Alston told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “People are still not getting it, and I don’t want these kids to die in vain.”

For the third year, Alston led a reading of the names of the 343 people who were murdered in Baltimore in 2017, which set a per-capita record for the city.

She started with Shaemon Pearlie, the 20-year-old who was the first recorded homicide last year.

“I don’t know why this year is the hardest,” Alston said after pausing inside the chapel at March Funeral Home on East North Avenue. “Our children can’t rest in peace until we bring some kind of end to this war.”

Victory Swift read the name of her 19-year-old son, Victorious Swift — a student the Baltimore Design School. She began to weep as she continued down the list.

“Phillip Bradford, 57,” she read tearfully. “Our future is being murdered…it is being slaughtered.  I never tell anybody I  lost my son. My son was stolen from me,” she told the group of around 30 people gathered in the pews.

“For 2017, his number was 74, but since 1990 — at an average of 200 homicides annually — his number is 7,623, so that’s how many we’re losing each year…what we have been doing has not been working. It is not working,” Swift said.

Victims in 2017 included Tony Mason Jr., the off-duty Washington, D.C. police officer whose murder has not been solved. Also unsolved — the killing of Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter on Nov. 15th.

“The same officer who came out to my mother’s house and worked on my brother’s case, Officer Suiter was taken away,” Antonio Funderburk told Hellgren.

Holding his three-year-old niece, he said, “She wants her father back. How about this Baltimore: What are you going to do about Officer Suiter? What are you going to do when a baby, 3-years-old, calls out for their father? What do you tell them? You got an answer for that?”

Funderburk’s younger brother, Charles Jerome Hamilton, was killed in September.

“I can’t tell her that daddy’s never coming home again. All we want to do was make sure he didn’t die in vain,” Funderburk said.

The annual homicide rate in the city last year was its highest ever — roughly 56 killings per 100,000 people.

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