Charles Bowman, 72, was the source of smiles, assistance, goodwill and friendship at the Afro-American Newspapers and with his family.
In the early morning hours of Thursday, April 8, that was taken away when he was killed during a robbery.
Bowman headed to work at the AFRO for his 1-9 a.m. shift at the security desk, stopped at about 12:30 a.m., as he did often, at Yau Brothers Carry Out at 2901 Greenmount Ave., according to his daughter, Sandra Vanwright.
As he stood facing the counter, two adult males in masks, at least one with a gun, came into the store and told the other patrons to get on the floor.
Bowman, hearing the disturbance, turned around, and startled by the scene, made a sudden move and one of the suspects "put the gun up to him and shot him," said Vanwright.
At some point during the robbery, witnesses told police $13 was taken from a woman in the store, said Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore City Police Department spokesman. He added that the chronology of the events was unclear and the investigation is ongoing.
"He was probably dead before he hit the floor," said Vanwright.
For Bowman's family, everything seems so strange.
Vanwright found her way to the scene before police had a chance to contact her because Bowman's brother-in-law and fellow AFRO staffer Elijah Washington called to make sure he was coming to work for his shift – even before there was a reason to suspect anything – because Bowman was usually early to work.
Vanwright said when she got Washington's call, she was only a little concerned at first, thinking he might have just stopped somewhere on the short trip from his home on 33rd Street to the AFRO offices on Charles Street.
But when neither man called her back to let her know he arrived safely, she decided to call his mobile phone, finding he'd left it at home. So Vanwright got in her car and traced his route, coming upon the crime scene and seeing Bowman's car parked near the restaurant.
As Vanwright was looking at the car to confirm it was his, she was approached by police, she said. After identifying herself to them and explaining who she was looking for, things were a little strange. "I knew something wasn't right," she said, "but didn't think that [he was killed]."
The police told her Bowman had been taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
According to Det. Kevin Hagan of the Baltimore Police Department, Bowman died at the hospital at 1:15 a.m.
Vanwright said Yau Brothers was Bowman's favorite Chinese restaurant. "He would go in and say, in his booming voice, 'The usual,' and they would know what to give him [pork yock-a-mein without the pork]," she said. "I could never go back in there now I'm sure."
According to family and friends, the Greenmount Avenue corridor was an area where Bowman felt safe and at home. "Everybody knew Charles and Charles knew them," said brother-in-law Albert Davis Sr. "I don't know anybody who didn't like Charles."
Michael Foster works at a hardware store adjacent to Yau Brothers and said he would never walk around Greenmount Avenue at midnight, which is around the time Bowman was shot and killed inside the restaurant. “At night time it gets cracking,” he said. “There are just drive-bys and craziness.”
A barber at Blackwell’s Barbershop across the street from the hardware store was reluctant to describe the neighborhood as dangerous, but his shop was robbed at gunpoint on Good Friday last year.
“There should be a lot more police presence than what it is,” the barber said.
“Police patrol the area for a few weeks [after a crime] and then it goes right back to what it was.”
Beauty supply store owner Chong Parks, whose business is a few buildings down from Blackwell’s, said “there’s a lot of trouble” on Greenmount at night and feels Yau Brothers’ 2 a.m. closing time is too late for the crime-ridden community.
This morning when AFRO staff arrived, for the first time in almost eight years, Bowman's warm, welcoming smile wasn’t there to greet them. The reason left the staff devastated by the sudden, senseless loss. "He didn't deserve to die the way he did," said co-worker and friend Clarence Massey.
Bowman touched the lives of AFRO staffers as completely as he did his own family.
Marquise Goodwin said he went with her to purchase a car, ensuring a salesmen didn't take advantage of her. Cassandra Stanback tearfully acknowledged his interest in her success and the caring advice he freely shared. Several people spoke of his regular contributions to the AFRO’s mid-week cookouts – 7-Up pound cake.
Sam Graham, his supervisor and friend, said, "Just him, first thing in the morning, talking in his voice and all … I'll just miss seeing him.”
As will everyone on staff. "We are deeply grieved by the violent departure of a valued friend and employee," said Jake Oliver, CEO and publisher. "It will take a while for us to understand and digest the fact he is no longer part of us. We send our prayers to his family."
AFRO staff and Bowman's family are also continuing to pray for the speedy capture of the two suspects who snatched such a stellar man’s life. The police investigation continues. "Twenty officers were stationed in the area to canvas today," said Guglielmi. "If anyone has any information, they are asked to contact the police. Any detail could be incredibly useful to us."
Funeral arrangements for Bowman are as follows: Viewing, Monday, April 12th 8:30 A.M.—8:00 P.M., March Funeral Home –1101 E. North Avenue; Wake, Tuesday, April 13 5:30 P.M.—6:00 P.M. First Baptist Church, 525 N. Caroline Street; Funeral immediately following (repast immediately following funeral); and, Burial, Wednesday, April 14 at Garrison Forest (Veterans Cemetery) 9:30 A.M.
Bowman is survived by a sister, Shirley Elizabeth Frederick; brothers-in-law, Elijah Washington, Kenneth Haskins, Walter Boyd, Edward H. Davis III and Albert Leon Davis Sr.; sisters-in-law, Marie Davis and Katherine Williams; and children Charles Bowman Jr., Diane Bowman, Ronald Bowman, Robert Bowman, Anthony Bowman, Carrielynn Bowman, Kevin Vanwright and Sandra Vanwright.