Nathaniel Hurt was known for sweeping the curb twice a day outside his meticulous home in one of Baltimore's most blighted neighborhoods.
In recent weeks, after police charged him with murdering one of a group of youngsters throwing rocks and bottles at his car, he has become known instead as a symbol of good intentions driven to violence by kids who mocked his tidy ways.
Hurt doesn't deny shooting 13-year-old Vernon Holmes Jr., a skinny foster child with crooked teeth who was new to the neighborhood and whom Hurt once hired to work at the snowcone stand behind his house.
But the 61-year-old janitor, who returned to work Tuesday for the first time in weeks, said he was driven to it by teenagers who started harassing him after he told them to stop throwing rocks at passing buses last month.
"He became a marked man for the kids in the neighborhood," said Stephen L. Miles, Hurt's attorney. Hurt has been charged with murder and is free on $200,000 bail.
Over a period of several weeks, they cut his garden hose, threw garbage in the little paved back yard he keeps immaculate and regularly knocked over his garbage cans, Miles said.
"They had him in such a complete flux of fear," said Miles, who is defending Hurt at no charge. "They created this situation, and one of them unfortunately paid the consequence for the social ills of the city."
Hurt, who has worked at the General Motors plant in Baltimore since he was 17 years old, was known in the neighborhood for keeping the area around his house spotless.
"Day in and day out he was out there cleaning up," said James R. Fleet, a neighbor.
On Oct. 10, Hurt snapped when a 9-year-old boy threw two buckets onto his fire escape on a dare. Hurt began chasing the boy and his three friends, police said. After another run-in with the boys that day, during which he allegedly beat one, the children began throwing bottles and rocks at Hurt's car.
Hurt walked out onto the second-floor fire escape and fired four shots from his .357 Magnum, hitting Holmes in the back as he ran away, police said.
Police arrested Hurt later that day after he barricaded himself in his house and refused to come out. Relatives, neighbors and co-workers bailed him out after almost a week in jail.
Hurt, who said he was sorry for the killing, has been forbidden to return to his neighborhood.