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A Tough Ride Uphill, Cut Off

Keith Hines's bicycle is out on the porch, ready to roll. Hines owned a car, but lately he'd been biking because of $4 gas and because he'd been thinking about being green.

Where Hines grew up, you didn't use a bicycle if you had a car. It wasn't manly. But Hines went his own way. Sometimes that got him into trouble; he got into drugs as a teenager and ended up in prison for a year. But over the past seven years, he had redefined going his own way. He finished high school and three years of college. He scouted around for ways to give back. "I had already taken so much away from my community with my previous lifestyle," he said.

He became a teacher's assistant, working with special-education students at a bilingual charter school. At the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights, he led a men's group and managed tough cases, kids he recognized all too well. He served on the board at YouthBuild, a tiny charter school where he had become a star student. He was intent on becoming a lawyer.

Friday night, Keith Ricardo Hines, 29, was on the porch, seeking relief from the heat.

Gloria Hines sighs deeply and rubs her face as she remembers. "I go up to bed kind of early, maybe look at TV," she says. "I heard the sound, you know, like a boom, but I don't go out or nothing. Usually, living here, you listen for an ambulance, and then you know if it's shooting or fireworks. How I knew was when the police knocked on the door. I opened the door, and they said, 'Do you know this gentleman?' "

He was her only child. Someone had climbed the 20 steps to the porch on Allison Street NW in Petworth and shot Hines in the head. He died then and there. His killing rated two sentences in the 13th paragraph of a Washington Post report about the two people killed and the 11 wounded on D.C. streets Friday night.

I met Hines two years ago while reporting about YouthBuild, which gives troubled kids one last chance. The students, all dropouts, alternate between two-week sessions of academics and on-site training in construction skills. The teachers were eager for me to meet Hines, a roly-poly fellow with dreads, a big smile and an unusual frankness about his past.

He dropped out of Roosevelt High in 10th grade, graduating to the economics and sociology classes of the street. His office was in the park, on the corner. He used drugs, and he sold drugs, he told me. When he got home from prison, one good thing happened: "Luckily," he said, "my mother had already filled out my application for YouthBuild."

"Most folks are making excuses when they first get here; Keith was frank," says Jilla Tombar, who directed YouthBuild when Hines arrived. "All the students say they want to go to college, but hardly any even go to get the application. Keith went right out to get started. He got the grades. He showed up on time."

A life doesn't turn on a dime, and Hines occasionally slipped back to old habits, lost a job, seemed uncertain. But he took on new responsibilities with gusto, serving on the school's board, vetting contracts and helping in executive searches.

A couple of months ago, Hines confided to Scott Perry, his boss at the Youth Center, that there was trouble in his neighborhood; someone had a beef with him. Hines seemed worried, and Perry suggested that Keith move away for a while. But Hines said he could not leave his mother; he took her to dialysis sessions several times a week.

"Keith just said it was a really old issue, and he was trying to keep going forward," Perry says.

Last week, Hines told his mother -- his father died when Keith was 5 -- that he was glad he had been sent to prison, where grim reality forced him to decide what he really wanted to be. He also told his mother, for the umpteenth time, that he wanted to give her one of his kidneys so she could lead a better life.

"I just kept procrastinating on it because he was so young, and I've been around," Gloria Hines says.

Retired from work as a housekeeper at Catholic University, she cannot accept that she is on her own. "We never had any trouble in 55 years in this house," she says. "One time, somebody took a ladder out of my yard, but that's the only thing."

"Every weekend is horrific in this city right now," says Lori Kaplan, director of the Latin American Youth Center. "How somebody can walk up to someone on a porch and just shoot them in the head speaks to some level of alienation that's beyond my capacity to understand."

Ever since Keith returned from prison, he and his mother had a routine: Every time he walked out the front door, she says, "we always said, 'I love you.' Every day."

Keith had paid his tuition for classes in the fall at the University of the District of Columbia. His bicycle sits on the porch, ready.

The door opens, and his mother says it again: "Love you." Then she answers for him. "Love you."

Join me at noon today for "Potomac Confidential" at

By Marc Fisher |  July 24, 2008; 9:24 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Too bad he couldn't have been strapped, he'd have had a chance.

Posted by: Stick | July 24, 2008 10:05 AM

What a terribly sad story. Nicely reported, Marc.

Posted by: Tom T. | July 24, 2008 10:18 AM

"Too bad he couldn't have been strapped, he'd have had a chance.

Posted by: Stick | July 24, 2008 10:05 AM "

First of all, he's a convicted felon so even an activist judge like Justice Scalia would probably bar him from carrying a handgun.

But that's beside the point. My question for you, Stick, is are you really just a citizen posting his or her own opinion, or are you from the NRA or something? Because I've noticed that everytime there's a comment section on an article about urban gun violence, random comments almost immediately appear demanding looser gun restrictions.

Posted by: Andy | July 24, 2008 10:43 AM

whomever "stick" is, that person is pretty damn cold-hearted. way to push your agenda, gun nut.

Posted by: IMGoph | July 24, 2008 11:22 AM

Much better post than normal Marc. I am sorry that you had to write it.

Is the issue forgiveness? How old does a "beef" have to be before people just let it go?

And for the shooter: what did you accomplish with this? Are you a "big" man now? Or just another coward with a gun and a "rep" to maintain. You'll get a long way in life for this I am sure.

Posted by: DC Voter | July 25, 2008 7:47 AM

And for the shooter: what did you accomplish with this? Are you a "big" man now? Or just another coward with a gun and a "rep" to maintain. You'll get a long way in life for this I am sure.

Posted by: DC Voter | July 25, 2008 7:47 AM

I would be willing to bet the shooter isn't a reader of the Post or these comment boards.

Just another stupid and pointless death in DC.


Gun control or not you know that about a million different factors play a part in urban homicides. Even if you are a pro-gun advocate I would think you would know the consequences of arming every DC resident with a firearm. Or maybe you think the futuristic world portrayed in Robocop would be a nice place to live.

Posted by: Southeasterner | July 25, 2008 8:09 AM

Did they get the kidney?

Posted by: shaped pool | July 25, 2008 4:36 PM

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