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Pleading for Safe(r) Streets After the Shooting of a 5 Year Old

Chaplain Gregory and Mary Rose Madden
wypr and Baltimore Police Chaplains

Dozens of police officers and clergy joined Amy Hayes’s family and neighbors Tuesday night at the site where the five-year-old was shot Monday, caught in a crossfire on her way to a corner store.

Amy’s great grandmother, Vivian Nealy, watched the walk through Sandtown-Winchester from the same window where she was sitting when she saw the girl crumple to the ground, a bullet in her groin.

“I think someone was after somebody in the neighborhood,” said Nealy, who is tethered to an oxygen tank because of a chronic lung disease. “This wasn’t that kind of block. Shooting? No. This wasn’t that kind of block.”

Nealy said she’s lived in the neighborhood for seven or eight years, but Amy, who’s been living with her, is getting out of there when she gets out of the hospital. She was in stable condition Tuesday.

“She’s gonna go with the other grandmother...She’s gonna be with the mother and other grandmother. Reporter: So, that’s what it's like, you just have to find the safest neighborhood and move?” Her voice trailed off. “I don’t think - there's none. I don't think there are safe neighborhoods,” she replied.

Police say they believe the shooter was in a car, and there were people on foot. But beyond that Acting Commissioner Gary Tuggle said police have no motive, no suspects and aren't even sure how many people they're looking for.

He told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon the shooting was emblematic of the level of violence these communities see.

"It just goes to show you that some individuals don't care who gets hurt," he said. “And they have to be removed from this community." 

Out on the street Tuesday night, some held signs that read, “Pray for Amy.” Others stood by mylar balloons tied to a street light. 

Keisha Garris was there with her nine-year old daughter, Amaya Graham, a friend of Amy’s. She says they were just playing together last week.

Credit Chaplain Gregory and Mary Rose Madden / WYPR and Baltimore Police Chaplains
WYPR and Baltimore Police Chaplains
Keisha Garris and her nine year old daughter Amaya Grayam. Amaya says she heard the gunfire that injured her young friend.

“We was playing at the park,” Amaya said. “We was playing basketball and I’d have to pick her to shoot in the hoop.”  

Garris wrapped her arms around her daughter, resting her chin on Amaya’s braids. She says they’ve lived in this neighborhood for seven months.

Amaya says her mom always tell her if she hears gun shots, to get down on the ground.

“When I heard Amy got shot–I was in there talking to my godfather and all I heard was pow, pow, pow...so, I ducked down on the ground and crawled to my mother,” she recounted. 

Amaya says she wants Amy to come home. She can’t wait to play with her friend.

Kia Morton, 40, who also lives in the neighborhood, was watching the crowd near the great-grandmother’s open window.

She said Amy “was my child.”

“Is my child," she corrected herself. “Is. She ain’t going nowhere. She my little cousin.”

She said she’s related to Amy’s father, who also was the father of Taylor Hayes, the seven-year-old who was shot to death last summer as she sat in the back seat of a car, caught in a crossfire.

Morton says she’s not angry, but she is fed up. At the same time, she says she doesn’t call police when she sees the drug dealing that leads to the kinds of shootings that took Taylor’s life and injured Amy.

“I ain’t with all that. I ain’t going there,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lt Colonel Sheree Briscoe, commander of the police department’s Western District, where Sandtown Winchester lies, tried to answer residents who demanded to know why police don’t come to their neighborhood and do something that will have an effect on the crime they see.

“We need to set aside our differences and focus on what’s important,” she said. “That’s keeping our community safe. That’s our children. Where we disagree – we can disagree and still come together.”

She conceded that people in the neighborhood have “a real fear” of retaliation if they call police, but asked, “Is it not a real fear when you see a five year old child struck?”

“What’s more important here? We have to drop our fears.”

She gestured to her fellow officers who “get down here every day.”

“There are many different ways to reach police,” she said. “You can remain anonymous.”

And 24 hours after the shooting, she said, police still don’t have any more information.

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.
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