Mom was on phone with Jupiter man when robbers killed him in Baltimore
Baltimore police say John Wagner and Lavelva Merritt were “hunting to rob someone” on Sunday night.
Around 11:30, they ran into Stephen Pitcairn.
The Jupiter man, a Johns Hopkins University researcher with dreams of finding the cure to breast cancer, was walking on Baltimore’s north side talking on the phone with his mother.
Wagner and Merritt found their perfect, distracted “someone,” police said in court records filed Tuesday .
Even after he followed the two career criminals’ orders, police allege that one of them stabbed him in the chest. All the while his mother, Gwen Pitcairn, listened as her son – just two days shy of his 24th birthday – pleaded with the robbers .
Afterward, the pair went home, apparently so proud of what they had done they bragged to witnesses, saying they had robbed and “hurt” a “white boy,” according to the court records.
Pitcairn was pronounced dead around midnight at John Hopkins Hospital.
On Monday morning, a police SWAT team raided Wagner and Merritt’s place at 2700 Baltimore Ave. and arrested the pair without incident. Police found blood at the front door, bloody shoes and Pitcairn’s brown wallet and iPhone in the house.
After being taken in for questioning, Merritt and Wagner gave statements that were “completely contradictory to one another,” police say.
Wagner, 34, and Merritt, 24, are expected to be arraigned this morning on murder, robbery and assault charges, according to the court records.
On Tuesday, Pitcairn’s colleagues were still in shock from his death.
“Everyone is trying to get over the initial response to the news,” said Dr. Gregg Semenza, who was Pitcairn’s mentor and lab supervisor.
“He was quite a remarkable young man,” he added. “This is a person that just had tremendous potential.”
Semenza said Pitcairn, who he planned to promote to lab manager, was in the process of applying to medical school for next year and that “he had all of the personal qualities” needed for a successful career as a physician.
The arrests were little consolation to Pitcairn’s friends and family in Jupiter.
“At this point it’s really hard even to articulate our loss,” said Pitcairn’s mother, Gwen Pitcairn, by telephone Monday.
“He was the best brother anybody could have,” she said, speaking through tears. “It’s just a shame that such a good person could get cut down at such a young age.”
Pitcairn, who grew up in Jupiter, was also a 2004 graduate of The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens, where he was a member of the 14-year Club for attending since preschool. Among other things, he was on the varsity cross country and track teams and was a vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“The entire school community is shocked and saddened by this devastating and senseless tragedy regarding one of our former students,” Head of School Robert Goldberg said in a statement late Monday .
“Stephen was a brilliant young man with an incredible future,” Amy Taylor, a longtime faculty member, said in an e-mail. “This is a tragic loss for his family, our community and those he could have touched with the work he had hoped to do in medicine.”
A memorial service for Pitcairn has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday in Jupiter. Funeral services have been scheduled for Friday at the North Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach.
Staff writer Michael LaForgia and The Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.