HOUSTON—In the crowd of hundreds gathered Saturday in the parking lot of an east Houston Walmart, there were women dotted throughout who knew just what Jazmine Barnes’s mother LaPorsha Washington was feeling.
The rally was held in honor of 7-year-old Barnes, who was murdered here six days ago, in an act of violence that resulted in a dead child, a wounded mother, and three grief-stricken and shocked sisters who were in the car as the assailant opened fire unprovoked in the early morning of Dec. 30.
Houston law enforcement is still hunting for the man who shot into Washington’s car as she was driving her children to get coffee nearby. Jazmine was shot in the head and died; Washington sustained a gunshot wound to her arm.
Community members, local celebrities and parents with children in tow came to eulogize and pray for Jazmine Barnes and her family, and to urge the public to report any potential sightings of the suspect. Crime Stoppers Houston printed and distributed 1,000 fliers with a composite sketch of the assailant to rallygoers. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez mentioned a reward of more than $100,000 for information on the killer. “We’re going to be out here working all day and all night,” Gonzalez told the crowd. “We will not stop until we get justice for Jazmine.”
Kathy Blueford-Daniels, 61, was there with a handmade sign of a photo of her son, Patrick Charles Murphy, who was shot and killed in Houston 10 years ago. He was 20 years old, and getting ready to start college, Blueford-Daniels said. She was there to show her support for Jazmine, but also to make contact with Washington, so she could support her in her grief.
“When all the people are gone and the cameras aren’t here, we are left to cry in our beds and at the cemeteries,” Blueford-Daniels said. She leads a group called BLAC Moms, or Black, Latino, Asian and Caucasian Mourners of Murder, to provide lasting support to people like her who have lost loved ones to gun violence. “It’s about going out and meeting with people, hugging them and letting them know you truly understand. Because people will say that to you, ‘I understand.’ No, you don’t. You can empathize, but unless you have experienced it, you don’t understand.”
“We don’t want people to be a part of this group,” she added. “We want it to stop—we want people to put the guns down.”
Another activist, Diana Earl, drove down from Austin for the rally. It’s been two years since her only son, then 22, was shot to death in Austin, and she’s now a part of gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action. “Shootings like this are a constant reminder that people shouldn’t be walking around with firearms, people with mental health issues or criminal convictions,” Earl said. “And every time it happens, it reopens the wound.”
An hour and a half after the rally started, after speeches by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, local activist Deric Muhammad, Houston rapper Paul Wall and many others, LaPorsha Washington arrived with her daughters and they were ushered through the crowd to the microphone.
Washington wept as she thanked the community for support, and spoke of her belief that the killer would be found and brought to justice.
“Only some of y’all mothers can feel where I’m coming from, the pain that I’m feeling,” she told the crowd, many of whom were also crying. “Nobody else carried her for nine months, and she was so young ... It’s not supposed to be like this.”
Those words hit Blueford-Daniels hard.
“That guilt feeling, you carry with you all your life,” she said.
Blueford-Daniels remembered that she carried her son Patrick for more than nine months, past his due date, before he was born via emergency c-section.
“I was so ready for him to come out,” she laughed. “But recently, I was in the shower, and I realized —” she paused, tears forming in her eyes, and gripped her belly. “Patrick was safest right here.”