TJ Smith had given Baltimore bad news before, but this was different. The police department's top spokesman—known for his personal descriptions of shootings that were tearing Baltimore apart—learned via paging alert on July 2, 2017, that his half-brother Dionay had been fatally shot in the head. So ended a painful journey that divided two siblings in a time of riots and spiking homicide rates that almost seemed to conspire against the younger Dionay, the Atlantic reports. "We come from the same cloth," Smith once told Dionay. Indeed, both were raised in black communities, but Smith grew up in a vibrant family home while Dionay was raised by their drug-using dad. "I know that you're in an environment that is not conducive to, you know, everyday life," Smith went on. "But understand that it's possible to do more than just this."
Smith helped Dionay find work, but the younger brother fell into drug dealing and other alleged crimes including rape, kidnapping, and forgery. Meanwhile, Baltimore saw violence surge after 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray died in police custody and riots shook the city. Murders, down 40% between 1993 and 2014, skyrocketed 92% in the following months and never returned to earlier levels. The atmosphere became toxic for Dionay, a father of three, who was apparently killed by a fellow drug dealer, the Baltimore Sun reported at the time. "Nothing that I'm saying is any different than I say with any other person who's fallen as a victim of crime," Smith told the media through tears. "As I often say, the day of the funeral doesn't end it for families. This goes on forever. There are children now without a father." (See which city has an even worse murder rate than Baltimore.)