CAMBRIDGE - Charlene Holmes was known to neighbors and friends as a bright, engaging teenager who tried to be a positive role model to her peers. They also were enchanted by her sparkling eyes, calling her “the big-eyed cutie.’’
But some residents on Willow Street have been left with a haunting image of Holmes, 16, who was shot Sunday evening and lay dying on the sidewalk as neighbors tried in vain to help.
“I was looking in her eyes when she died,’’ said Cheryl Hall, 57, a close friend of the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School sophomore. “I picked her hand up, and I was trying to talk to her. I told her, ‘It’s going to be OK. Stay with us.’ ’’
Word of Holmes’s death in an apparent drive-by shooting cast a pall over the neighborhood and the school Monday as many students chose to leave early or express their sorrow to counselors called in to help them deal with the crisis.
In front of 34-36 Willow St., where Holmes was shot along with a 17-year-old girl who is in critical condition, mourners dropped off flowers, candles, and other items at a spontaneous street memorial.
On Monday evening, in an outpouring of grief, hundreds gathered at a vigil at the site and many urged anyone with information about the shooting to come forward. No arrests have been made in the city’s first homicide of the year.
“Bring peace to my niece,’’ said the girl’s aunt, Lela, who declined to give her last name. “I want to know who killed her.’’
In a moving tribute in a park across the street from the spot where Holmes was shot, friends and family held red, pink, and white balloons as a woman sang. As the song concluded, Hall said, “We love you,’’ and friends and family members released the balloons into the evening sky as many sobbed.
A man who identified himself only as Holmes’s father, screamed out for someone to help. “I saw my daughter die on this sidewalk,’’ he said. “She died in my arms. And I’m asking for your help. Please, help me.’’
The man then quickly went to his home on Willow Street, and family members said he was not available for comment.
Neither shooting victim lived at 34-36 Willow. According to Cambridge police records, officers have responded to the address at least 10 times in the past two years, for incidents ranging from domestic disputes to drug possession with intent to distribute, to warrant arrests.
Marjorie Decker, an at-large city councilor, visited Holmes’s parents on Monday. She said she will take a closer look at complaints surrounding the multifamily property.
“It’s clear that neighbors have identified there’s one problem area that has been generating a lot of problems,’’ Decker said.
Decker described the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood, near Inman Square, as generally a safe area.
“People play here, there’s games here, there’s softball games - my brother was playing softball when this happened,’’ she said.
Holmes, according to numerous residents, was walking home with her older sister. They had just walked in front of 34-36 Willow when at least four shots rang out about 8 p.m., sparking a chaotic scene in which dozens fled the playing fields seeking cover.
Holmes fell to the ground as her sister ran toward their nearby home, inside the apartment complex where Hall lives, to escape the gunfire, they said.
The 17-year-old girl, whom school officials identified as Thanialee Cotto-Felix, was shot as she sat on the steps of the house with a teenage male who lives at the residence.
School officials said in a statement that Holmes was involved in numerous extracurricular activities, including softball and track. She was also involved in a youth leadership program and in antibullying initiatives.
Cotto-Felix, who also attended Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, was preparing for her graduation Thursday. She is also involved in the youth leadership program and has worked in a relative’s restaurant to help support her family, the statement said. She is planning to attend Newbury College.
At the street memorial, many of the mourners were students. They said Holmes’s death should be a wake-up call for change.
Shawndell Johnson, 16, a sophomore, shook his head from side-to-side and said, “Too much violence. It needs to stop.’’
Johnson said Holmes was popular.
“She was a good kid,’’ he said. “I remember during MCAS, she was talking about how she wanted to be a lawyer, like something big. She just wanted to finish school and go to college and do what she got to do.’’
Jamaria Jarvis, 15, a freshman, said she and Holmes were good friends, describing her as an “amazing, funny person.’’
Cindy Rodriguez, 21, next-door neighbor to Holmes, expressed shock at the death of her lifelong friend.
“Her eyes said it all: She’d walk by, just look at you, and she kind of brightened up your day, just with her eyes,’’ Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said she stayed with Holmes’s mother until 3 a.m. Monday. At one point, her mother picked up her late daughter’s iPod.
“She said she was just plotting out ways to cope, in her head, and she was watching videos of her daughter,’’ she said.
At the vigil Monday night, Jeff Solomon, a 19-year-old senior at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, said Cotto-Felix’s classmates were talking about wearing ribbons to remember her during commencement ceremony Thursday. “It’s going to be very hard for all of us,’’ he said.