- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

BALTIMORE — More than four years after a drug dealer killed a family of seven in their home in retaliation for reporting drug crime, the once burned-out shell of a horrific crime scene has been turned into a community center designed to bring help and hope.

Local residents gathered yesterday with city and state officials in a neighborhood long troubled by drug crime to sing, pray and encourage everyone in the community to put the Dawson Family Safe Haven Center to good use.

“Make it a refuge for you when times are a little bit shaky or tough,” Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said at a ceremonial dedication of the building. “Make it an opportunity for you to share the same love for this community that the Dawson family had.”

Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children were burned to death in the Oct. 16, 2002, attack.

A small-time drug dealer named Darrell Brooks pleaded guilty to using Molotov cocktails to firebomb their three-story row house. He was sentenced in federal court to life in prison without possibility of parole.

The family center was designed to give children a place to go and to assist residents who need help finding jobs or paying utility bills, said Reggie Scriber, Baltimore’s deputy commissioner of housing. It also was designed to help people who face intimidation by drug dealers. A computer lab and kitchen also are planned.

The center will have a staff of six. It will be open in January from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Mr. Scriber said it cost about $1.2 million to refurbish the home, with $400,000 from the state and $800,000 from the city. Mr. Scriber said it was a difficult project to complete because of the cost, but that ultimately the project was not about the money.

“It was about sending a message to people who do this kind of stuff that we were not going to tolerate this kind of behavior in the city of Baltimore,” he said.

Ronald Allen, who was born and raised in the neighborhood and lives across the street from the center, said he thinks it will be a positive resource for youths. He said the area has improved since police boosted their presence in wake of the killings.

“It’s still rough,” Mr. Allen said. “It’s not as rough as it was, but we need some more help in the block itself.”

Police have installed one of the city’s crime-surveillance cameras across the street from the center to monitor drug activity. State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat who lives nearby, said the camera had to be moved about seven months ago after someone “shot it out.”

Sheila Dixon, the city’s incoming mayor, urged residents to make the same commitment to fighting drugs that Mr. and Mrs. Dawson did.

“If each of us are not willing to make that kind of sacrifice and commitment ourselves, then this is all in vain,” she said.

Mayor Martin O’Malley, who was elected governor last month, said he couldn’t think of a worse day during his time as mayor as the day the Dawsons were killed. He referred to the building as “our Alamo.”

“It gives you some hope that what some people intended for evil that God can make a tool for good,” Mr. O’Malley said.

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