To Deontae Smith's mother, there was no question her son had been to the Super Bowl parade on Tuesday. And she's upset that Baltimore police didn't make the same connection sooner.
Deontae was fatally stabbed outside a McDonald's restaurant at Howard and Fayette streets downtown during a fight involving a large group of teens three blocks from the parade route, police said. Two other teens were also injured, and no suspect has been identified.
Baltimore police said Tuesday that the stabbing incidents weren't related to the parade but said Wednesday that they believed Smith had been at the parade.
Deontae's mother, Chevita Bumbrey, and several family members said initial police statements made it seem as though the city was trying to play down Deontae's death to hide Baltimore's violent crime problems from the national media covering the televised parade.
Bumbrey wonders whether the incident would have received more publicity had police linked the events immediately, causing parade-goers to search their memories for suspects sooner.
"It was breaking news," she said. "I'm very upset. They're not taking responsibility."
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said there was no intent to obscure the tragedy. Police didn't know enough in the immediate aftermath to say Deontae had attended the parade, he said.
"We will never downplay the murder of a 15-year-old boy," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to that family, and we're focused on one thing: finding the person responsible."
Deontae left home Tuesday in a collared shirt, but his mother thinks he ditched school and changed into other clothes to join about 200,000 people downtown to watch the Baltimore Ravens get carried through the heart of the city.
"He wasn't supposed to be at the parade, he was supposed to be at school," Bumbrey said. "He wore his school uniform out, but he must have changed his clothes because his uniform was found in his book bag."
On Wednesday, police Capt. Stanley Brandford said the incident may have begun with an earlier fight at Harborplace Gallery, on the parade route.
The stabbing, which Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts referred to as a "sad stain on an otherwise excellent performance," was the first high-profile violent incident at a major gathering since July 4, 2011, when an out-of-state visitor was fatally stabbed at Pier Six and a 4-year-old was wounded by celebratory gunfire shortly after fireworks ended at the Inner Harbor.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young stressed Wednesday how difficult it is for police to eliminate all violence at a gathering as big as the Ravens celebratory parade.
"It's just unfortunate that we had a few teenagers who engaged in some fighting that caused one young man to lose his life. I'm saddened by that," he said. "However, I think we had protection in place. But with 200,000 people, it's almost difficult to stop some of this stuff."
Police said detectives have good leads in Deontae's death, including some surveillance footage. A 15-year-old and a 16-year-old, whose identities were not released, remained in serious condition Wednesday, police spokesman Detective Vernon Davis said.
There were a lot of witnesses, according to Sherif Heshmat, who runs Freestyle Fish n' Chicken, which sits across from the McDonald's grounds where the fight erupted.
"Very, very crowded," he said of the scene. "People everywhere from the parade, screaming and shouting."
Hearing the commotion, Heshmat said, he looked out of his carryout and saw Deontae stumble out of the McDonald's and collapse behind a parked police car.
"I saw someone drop on the floor leaking of blood," he said.
Police said Deontae went into cardiac arrest and was rushed into surgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The boy, who lived in the Ellwood Park/Monument neighborhood, loved to dance and was part of an outfit known as the "Brovahood," which performed at the Paradox Club and elsewhere around the Inner Harbor, Bumbrey said.
"He was a happy child," she said. "He wasn't bad. He didn't get into any trouble. He liked to dance and was very outgoing. He was well-liked by everyone."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Deontae's death is not being overlooked.
"It's a tragedy," she said Wednesday. "Whether it happened during the parade, as a part of the parade, or it happened in another part of town, a young person has lost their life. …That was an unfortunate and grim reminder that there's a lot of work to do."
Baltimore Sun staff writers Luke Broadwater, Justin Fenton and Erica L. Green contributed to this article.