It was an early Sunday evening, July 2, 2017, and T. J. Smith, the chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, wanted a plate of Maryland crabs. He plunked half a bushel onto the kitchen counter of his suburban home and began pulling ingredients from his cabinets and refrigerator. He let the crabs steam until their shells turned the color of fire. But before he could eat, Smith had to run two errands. He slid a dozen crabs into a brown paper bag for his mother, collected his 5-year-old son, and hopped into his police-issued Ford Explorer.

The sun was drawing down over the Northwest Expressway, and as Smith cruised south, he felt a rare lightness of spirit. The past two days had been quiet. On Friday, he’d said goodbye to a top homicide commander with what had become their signature sign-off: “I hope you have a fantastic weekend and I don’t have to talk to you.” Unlike during most 48-hour stretches in Baltimore, this weekend there had been no murders requiring the pair to coordinate. The following morning he would begin a 10-day vacation.

His insides clenched when he saw the name. The latest homicide victim was his younger brother.

He swung by his mother’s house, handed off the crabs, then headed to the home of his son’s mother, who would care for their son while Smith was away. As he turned into her driveway, his phone lit up. The police department’s paging system alerted Smith to every carjacking, stabbing, sexual assault, and other violent crime that occurred in the city. With intelligence flowing back and forth, his phone could buzz up to 100 times a day. He peered down at the screen.

Male found in a pool of blood, appears to be a gunshot wound to the head. 1400 Block of Argyle Avenue. Twenty-four-year-old male. Dionay Smith.

His insides clenched when he saw the name. How many Dionay Smiths could there be? He texted the officer handling the case. I know that name, Smith told him. The officer replied that he was standing beside the body in a West Baltimore rowhouse. The crime scene was secure, but the medical examiner was still on his way, so the body had not yet been rolled onto its back. Identification might be tough. But he would send a picture. Then the image flashed onto Smith’s phone. He could make out the light-brown skin, the pudgy frame, the tattoos.

And so, on a summer day last year, Baltimore’s police spokesman informed the city about homicide victim No. 173, his younger brother.

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