(CNN) — T.J. Smith, Baltimore’s chief police spokesman, has been getting the names of city homicide victims by text message with increasing regularity of late.
But he never expected to see the familiar name that popped up Sunday night.
Smith’s 24-year-old brother, Dionay, was fatally shot in his apartment that night. He was Baltimore’s 173rd homicide victim this year.
“When I saw his name come across, I just knew,” T.J. Smith, in tears, told reporters on Wednesday.
“Like any family member, you’re in denial. I remember when I called, I was hoping he’d answer, because … I was going to wherever he was to hug him. And I didn’t get a chance to do that.”
An arrest was made in the case Thursday. The homicide leaves Baltimore as one of the most murderous cities per capita in the nation.
And Smith, who regularly addresses the public about the scourge of violence, this time was left to break the terrible news to his own family.
“To me and my family, he’s Dion, a brother, a son, a father, a friend, a nephew and a kind soul,” Smith wrote on his Facebook page.
Terrell Gibson, 21, was arrested Thursday morning and charged with murder in connection with Dionay Smith’s death, police said.
Investigators aren’t sure about a motive, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said.
“We’re comfortable with saying that there was some type of dispute that occurred inside (Dionay’s) residence … and our homicide detective will be actively interrogating and questioning Terrell Gibson throughout the day so we can better establish a motive,” Davis said.
‘A very kind heart’
In a statement on his Facebook page Thursday, Smith offered his family’s “sincere thanks to the Baltimore Police Department for identifying and arresting the suspect” in Dionay’s death.
“We also offer our thanks to the community for the outpouring of assistance and condolences,” Smith wrote. “We now look forward to the justice system holding this individual accountable for his actions, so that he does not have the opportunity to harm anyone else’s family.”
Earlier, Smith said his brother “had a very kind heart.”
Dionay Smith worked two jobs, according to his brother. He volunteered at a community program for children.
“Now this might sound like a cliche, but it is true — my brother was a good kid,” Smith wrote. “He wasn’t ‘about that life.'”
In response to the city’s increasing homicide rate, Davis last month instituted mandatory 12-hour work shifts for all police officers.
In an editorial, the Baltimore Sun in June decried the “crushing pace of homicides.”
“What we are experiencing is not a blip but evidence of a breakdown in the social order that has only accelerated in the two years since the riots sparked by Freddie Gray’s death,” the editorial said.
Gray suffered a fatal spine injury while being transported in a police van in 2015. His death became a symbol of the black community’s mistrust of police and triggered days of protest and riots.
Since then, 341 homicides were reported in 2015; there were 318 homicides last year.
‘Enough with the hashtags’
Makeshift memorials consisting of melting candles and flowers to mark shooting scenes have become familiar sights in some neighborhoods.
“Enough with the hashtags and the RIPs and the balloons and the vigils and the T-shirts,” Smith said Wednesday.
“Let’s stop. He’s going have his moment of T-shirts, moment of RIP, moment of Instagram hasthags and all and then we move onto to the next person until we stop. It’s up to the guys on the street to say, ‘Enough is enough.'”
Smith said he had spoken with his brother last week. His brother’s twins have the same birthday as Smith’s son.
“I’m not angry, I’m upset,” Smith said.
“I’m upset that he is not going to have a life to lead. … I know my brother looked up to me. I know he loved me a lot. I know he wanted to make me proud.”
As the face of Baltimore’s troubled police department, Smith is no stranger to death and destruction. His family is no more deserving of attention, he said, than others who share similar misfortune.
“For the last couple of years, I’ve notified the public of many tragedies, mostly death, specifically homicide,” Smith wrote.
“I’ve been on crime scenes and heard the wails of family members when they discover it’s their loved one who is deceased. … Every name of every victim is sent to me and other commanders immediately. On Sunday evening, one of the names that came to me was way too familiar.”