‘Is that my baby brother?’

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 12, 2005

A former drug dealer, Anthony Ralph thought he had left crime behind.

But it tragically caught up with him again Wednesday night, when Ralph learned that his baby brother had been shot to death.

&uot;I’ve come down a long road,&uot; said Ralph, at his North 5th Street home Thursday afternoon. &uot;I used to be a drug dealer, out on the streets all night. I got out of prison five years ago.&uot;

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That’s when Ralph turned his life around. He took his first real job. Then, three years ago, he started his own tree service business and began taking care of lawns across the city.

For a short while, Anthony’s brother, Eric Ralph, worked with him.

&uot;I wanted to make it for him,&uot; Anthony said. &uot;I was talking to a guy last week, and I told him that that was my plan for Eric – to turn the business over to my baby brother.&uot;

But he’ll never get the chance.

On Wednesday evening, Anthony pulled into his home, and started cleaning his saws, getting them ready for the next day. His fianc\u00E9e came to the door and told him that Eric had been gunned down at the 7-Eleven on Carolina Road.

Anthony rushed to convenience store and found police and rescue personnel were milling around – and next to the gas pumps, he saw a figure draped in a white sheet.

Anthony saw a detective he’d known for years.

&uot;I asked, ‘Is that my baby brother?’&uot; he said. &uot;He said to go look.&uot;

Anthony pulled back the sheet, and saw that it was Eric. The father of three small children, Eric, who would have turned 29 today, had been taken away forever by someone with a gun.

&uot;I was stunned,&uot; Anthony said. &uot;I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it myself.&uot;

A young relative, who was in the car when the shooting occurred, said Eric had simply asked a man in another car to help jump his engine and give him a cigarette, Anthony said.

&uot;That’s what I’ve been told so far,&uot; Anthony said. &uot;He said that one minute they were arguing, the next minute shots rang out.

&uot;I have some brothers in prison, and I know they’re in pain.&uot;

When they were younger, Eric – who was eight years younger – always wanted to play with Anthony and his friends and other brothers, he recalled.

&uot;He’d start to cry, and we’d take him anyway,&uot; he said. &uot;We’d go to Tinee Giant and stores like that, and all day, we’d tote people’s groceries out to their car. They’d give us 50 cents or a dollar. &uot;But Eric was so small, he didn’t have to carry out groceries, so we’d just buy him things anyway.&uot;

Just last week, Anthony attended a neighborhood cookout to raise funds for a DVD he and a partner are planning to create. Entitled &uot;Blood on Our Hands,&uot; it’s about gang violence and the lives lost because of it.

Anthony said he wasn’t sure if the family of Diane Holland, the 14-year-old killed in a drive-by shooting July 2 on Hunter Street, would be involved.

&uot;We’re speaking out,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve got to change the environment.

&uot;If you can’t change the environment, you can’t change anything. It takes more than politicians making promises – the people have to do it.&uot;