Christopher Ryan Brumfield was a man of sweet, solid ambition. Simple motivations quietly urged him forward, his mother said. Those who knew him had no trouble imagining that his childhood dreams would someday be realized.
"He was going to be a doctor, a primary care physician," Ledell Brumfield Campbell said in an interview. "He had a very settled mentality at 21 years old. He was going to drive a truck, his medicine bag beside him. His dog would be in the back of the truck. He would make house calls. Can you imagine, in this day and age, he was going to make house calls!"
But on the night before he was scheduled to return to West Virginia University for his final year of undergraduate studies, Brumfield, a pre-med student, was gunned down outside a friend's apartment building in Laurel. Authorities suspect that Brumfield was the victim of mistaken identity -- that the shooter intended to kill someone else.
"I feel like someone has come and snatched out my soul," Brumfield Campbell said, the wound still very raw weeks after her son's death. "No mother should have to deal with this. It's just horrible."
Brumfield's Aug. 16 slaying, one of 104 in Prince George's County this year, remains unsolved, as do dozens of the other killings. The year-end total, should the pace continue, could exceed figures from the mid-1990s, when drug-fueled wars accounted for much of the bloodshed.
In August, about a week after Brumfield was shot, nine people were killed in a six-day period, including a hair stylist and a recent high school graduate.
Authorities have offered no explanation for the recent surge in violent crime, concluding that some things cannot be explained. They do, however, point to a persistent drug problem as being responsible for many of this year's slayings. Others were domestic incidents. Many more are listed as having no motive, as remains the case with Brumfield's slaying.
"I just don't understand how you can work so hard to keep your kids off the streets, to make sure they're not violent when they grow up, and then someone comes along and just slaughters them," Brumfield Campbell said. "I think it's ironic he died the way he did. He was going to live in a small town and raise his kids away from violence. He didn't want anything to do with violence."
Police said Brumfield, called Ryan by his mother and friends, was shot while walking at about 11 p.m. on a sidewalk outside a building of the Village Square North Apartments in the 9000 block of Contee Road. He was with a friend, who was also shot but not killed. The friend's name was withheld by police because he is a witness to the homicide.
Brumfield Campbell said her son ran into Apartment 202 and "collapsed and died" in the arms of another friend, a woman he worked with at a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Laurel. He had driven the woman home after their shift ended, his mother said. It was one of two jobs he held over the summer to earn money for tuition and other school expenses, she said.
His bags were packed, Brumfield Campbell said, and he was excited about his senior year.
"His dreams are gone," she said, dreams that included marrying his college sweetheart and building a life and successful medical practice with her.
LaNae Aldridge, also a West Virginia University pre-med student and Brumfield's girlfriend of three years, wrote in an e-mail that she and Brumfield talked about living in a small town and raising four or five children. Later, she said, they would retire to Mississippi, where Brumfield was born.
"That's all shattered now by this senseless crime," wrote Aldridge, who plans to become a veterinarian. "Ryan was a good person just getting ready to really experience life. His story wasn't ready to end just yet. . . . His body in a casket is not the image I wanted to remember him by."
They met their first week in college and soon became inseparable, Aldridge wrote. On their first date, they played Ping-Pong at the university's recreation center. Within months, she wrote, "I knew I loved him and he was the one."
"He was my boyfriend, my best friend and most of all, my heart," she wrote.
Aldridge recently stood among dozens of Brumfield's friends, co-workers and relatives outside the Laurel apartment house where he was shot dead -- a three-level brick building with blue plantation shutters and a manicured green lawn. The group gathered in Brumfield's memory and held a candlelight vigil hoping to call greater attention to the slaying, his mother said.
"I'm shocked and I'm hurt," Brumfield Campbell said. "This is unacceptable. This is not right. This is wrong."
Authorities said they are working hard to solve this case, as well as dozens of others that remain unsolved. Tips have trickled in, but no arrests have been made and no suspects have been identified, they said.
Meanwhile, department officials have offered overtime shifts to the patrol staff, which comprises less than 40 percent of the 1,200-member force, so that more officers are on the streets during the overnight hours, when the majority of violent crimes are committed. They also vowed to position undercover narcotics officers and other detectives in the neighborhoods that have seen a spike in slayings, most of which are within a few miles of the D.C. border.
Brumfield Campbell, also the mother of a 5-year-old boy, said she met recently with top police officials to discuss the investigation of her son's death, which she said she feels has stalled. She said she doesn't want her son's memory to fade.
Many of his friends said they agree.
Maia Davis, the sister of one of Brumfield's closest friends, said, "He had drive, determination and a heart of gold that you do not see much of today. He could bring a smile to any face and make things better. I will always remember Ryan, and he always will hold a place in my heart."
Sitting in her sparsely decorated first-floor office, in a building across the street from Laurel's police department, Brumfield Campbell, who owns a nursing staffing agency, said she wants only to keep her son's spirit alive.
In his memory, she said, she founded an organization that will issue scholarships every year to high school seniors from Mississippi, where her son was born, and from Laurel, where he was raised and where he graduated from high school.
"This will be for the kids who weren't as fortunate growing up as Ryan, for kids who are ambitious and need help to pursue their college dreams," said Brumfield Campbell, who now lives in Columbia. "Hopefully I'll feel better when I see a kid go on and be successful and do with their lives what Ryan had planned to do."
Donations to the scholarship fund can be sent in the form of a check or money order to the C.R. Brumfield Foundation at 14625 Baltimore Avenue, Suite 246, Laurel, Md. 20707.
Police ask anyone with information about Brumfield's slaying, or any others that have occurred in the county, to call the department's Crime Solvers at 301-735-1111.