MIAMI—When Adrien Annestor saw Elijah LaFrance for the last time, his 3-year-old cousin was as joyful and playful as ever. The little boy was celebrating his birthday early at a party his parents arranged at an Airbnb rental in a suburb near North Miami Beach, Florida.
“He was really a sweet boy,” Annestor, 44, told The Daily Beast. “As I was leaving, I tapped him on his butt and he laughed. About 45 minutes later I got a call from my godson telling me Elijah is dead. I passed out.”
According to Miami-Dade Police, shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday, unknown subjects armed with semi-automatic rifles unleashed a fusillade at the rental property while Elijah’s parents were cleaning up the front yard. Bullets tore through concrete columns, exterior walls and Elijah as he stood in the front doorway. He succumbed to his wounds on the way to the hospital.
Four days later, a somber Annestor is standing outside the front door of his own house, just a two-minute car ride from the scene of the drive-by that claimed Elijah’s life just days before he would have turned 4. Since no one has stepped forward with any information about Elijah’s killers, his family is increasing the $15,000 reward by another $10,000, Annestor said.
“It’s super frustrating,” Annestor said. “Someone knows the people who did this. You can go talk to the cops if you don’t want to talk to us. Or you can talk to anybody who you feel comfortable with and will pass along the information.”
Other relatives shared images of the reward poster and contact information for Miami-Dade Crimestoppers, which is administering the reward. On her Instagram and Facebook accounts, Elijah’s aunt, Marthel Joassaint, who did not respond to phone messages seeking comment, pleaded with her followers for help.
“Please help us find these killers who took our innocent nephew’s life,” Joassaint wrote. “Please if you know something Please say something‼️‼️ Me and my family is so heartbroken and we only want Justice.”
Elijah’s family is going through a tragedy all too familiar for parents of color in South Florida and across the U.S. whose kids are collateral damage in drive-by shootings. “Those parents who have lost their children to gun violence are feeling our pain right now,” Annestor said. “For them, everytime they hear about something like this, they can’t sleep well. They can’t even function normally. We hope one day something gets done about these situations.”
Elijah was the third child fatally shot in a one year span in Miami-Dade, where an activist group of moms and dads known as Florida Parents of Murdered Children successfully lobbied for a state law that protects the identities of witnesses from becoming public while a murder case is pending. But monetary rewards and ID protection have not helped crack other recent homicides of little children.
Despite a $37,000 reward, Miami-Dade Police have not landed any credible leads about who was behind the 2017 killing of 2-year-old Carnell Williams-Thomas. Another unsolved case is the murder of 8-year-old Jada Page, who was caught in the cross-fire of a drive-by shooting in 2016. A $26,000 reward has not turned up any information on her killers.
Six years ago, Florida passed the law that conceals the identities of murder witnesses in police reports from public disclosure for at least two years while a case is pending. However, due process prevents the legislature from enacting a more stringent measure that would hide a witness name from defendants and their attorneys. After all, the U.S. Constitution affords all Americans the right to confront their accusers.
As a result, witnesses are still afraid they will have to take the stand and point the finger at cold-blooded killers, said Tangela Sears, co-founder of Florida Parents of Murdered Children who led the lobbying effort to pass the witness identity protection law. “There was a recent case where the main witness was cooperating with detectives and prosecutors to a tee,” Sears told The Daily Beast. “But there was one thing she refused to do: go into the courtroom. She was so afraid to look at the defendant in the face.”
Sears said another problem is that many people in Florida communities plagued by gun violence are unaware the law is on the books, she said. “A lot of folks don’t know this law exists,” Sears said. “We need to do a better job of advertising it.”
Even though recent child murder cases remain unsolved, Annestor is clinging to hope that Elijah’s death resonates with anyone who knows his little cousin’s assassins. On Tuesday, a Miami-Dade Police spokesman said detectives have received many tips that they are chasing down. He declined further comment.
“Taking a child away like that is not cool,” Annestor said. “Whatever beef you have with someone or any problem, it should not involve kids.”
For now, Annestor is trying to hold it together and provide comfort to his relatives, he said. Annestor’s mom is the older sister of Elijah’s mother, Terrissa Barron. The 25-year-old hair stylist did not respond to a phone message from The Daily Beast. “His mother is not doing too good,” Annestor said. “She is still crying nonstop.”
He is still reeling from the fact his little cousin won’t be coming by his house on Sundays anymore. “It really hurts,” Annestor said. “We miss him.”