Who was Freddie Gray, whose death has reignited protests against police?

Who was Freddie Gray?
Who was Freddie Gray?

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Who was Freddie Gray? 02:51

Story highlights

  • Gray died on April 19 after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody a week before
  • "He could have been a comedian," a neighbor says

Baltimore (CNN)Before the world heard his name chanted in the streets, before his cries echoed across televisions and sparked protests in Baltimore, Freddie Gray was struggling to make a life for himself.

The 25-year-old lived in a red brick row house with a white metal bar in the Gilmor Homes neighborhood.
    Neighbors say he was friendly and there were no signs of his long rap sheet.
    "He was so funny. Any time you're looking for a laugh, you're going straight to Freddie," Raheem Gaither told The Baltimore Sun. "We're all from the same neighborhood. All of us here are family."
    Gray loved football and had always wanted to play tight end but was too small, his friend William Stewart said.
    "He could have been a comedian, for real, but nah. Now look at him," Gaither said.

    Run-ins with the law

    Gray died on April 19 after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody a week before. His death sparked protests against police in Baltimore, which later spread to major cities nationwide. Court documents said Gray was arrested after running away from police.
    As questions about his fatal injury remain, more details are emerging about his past.
    According to court documents obtained by CNN, there were more than 20 criminal court cases in Maryland against Gray. Five of those were still active at the time of his death.

    Drug charges

    Most of the cases were drug-related, but there are charges from March for second-degree assault and destruction of property. He was due in court on a possession charge on April 24.
    Gray had been in and out of prison since 2009 for various drug cases, said Maryland Department of Corrections spokesman Gerard Shields. In February 2009, he was sentenced to four years in prison for two counts of drug possession with intent to deliver. Shields said he could not determine from records what kind of drug was involved.

    Relative: Drugs supported his family

    Gray was paroled in 2011 and went back to prison again two years later for drug possession. After serving a month, he was released in June 2013.
    His brother-in-law, Juan Grant, said drugs helped Gray support his family.
    "When people come to buy narcotics or gamble or anything and they put their money in your hand, what makes you so bad?" Grant asked. "He had responsibilities. Responsibilities don't stop because you don't have a job."

    A glimpse into his early life

    As a child, Gray's life was marked with financial hardship from the beginning.
    His mother and stepfather raised him and his siblings in a home so squalid, they won a settlement from the landlord over lead paint exposure, The Baltimore Sun reported.
    Gray and his sisters had damaging levels of lead in their blood, leading to myriad educational and medical issues, the paper reported.
    That's according to a lawsuit filed in 2008 against the owner of the home the family rented for years.
    The case was reportedly settled before it went to trial, but documents from the lawsuit give an insight into Gray's early life.
    He and his sisters were born "preemie," their mother said in a deposition. Gray lived in the home at the center of the lawsuit from ages 2 to 6.
    During a 2009 deposition, the newspaper reported, Gray's mother was questioned and reportedly said that she couldn't read, had never been to high school and had a daily heroin habit, but that she stopped using it after she entered treatment.
    During his own deposition, Gray spoke about peeling paint and said he was put in special education classes. His sisters testified that they had to repeat grades.

    Gray's family life

    Eighteen months before Gray died, his brother was the victim of street violence. He died.
    It's unclear how many siblings he has, but he has a twin sister, Fredericka Gray.
    "It hurts my heart to know that she lost one son to street violence and another due to police brutality," said Kiona Mack, a family friend.
    Gray also had a girlfriend whose child he helped care for.
    "He sat in there and watched the kid, he took this little child to school every morning that his girlfriend had to work," said Grant, his brother-in-law.
    As his family mourns and a scarred community seeks answers, more protests are planned nationwide.