Not yet halfway to her first birthday, Aavielle Nevaeh Wakefield was too young to be the victim of a school shooting.
But on the same day as the massacre at Umpqua Community College, little Aavielle proved that no age is too young to be fatally wounded by a stray bullet in America.
“Somebody was shooting at our car as we came through a street,” reported a caller to 911 in Cleveland. “And they shot the baby. The baby dead!”
“How old is the child?” the dispatcher asked.
“The baby is only 5 months old,” the caller said.
“Five months old… Male or female?” the dispatcher asked.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Male or female? Is it a boy or girl?”
“Is she awake?”
“Is she breathing?”
Screaming could be heard in the background.
“That’s her mother holding her,” the caller explained.
Moments before, the mother had been driving the family car back from grocery shopping when gunfire erupted. A bullet had torn through one of the car’s doors and the baby seat, and now Iesha Wakefield was clutching her bleeding infant daughter to her. The caller was apparently the grandmother.
“What part of her body was she shot?” the dispatcher asked.
“We don’t know,” the caller answered. “Her mother won’t let her loose.”
“OK. Get a clean, dry cloth or towel. You need put it on the wound, apply firm and steady pressure and don’t lift it up to look.”
The screaming continued. Aavielle’s 8-year-old sister had also been in the car, and she was hearing and seeing it all.
“Ma’am, listen to me,” the dispatcher continued. “We have to give the baby mouth-to-mouth, OK? You need to get her flat on her back…”
The screaming heightened in pitch and desperation as the caller tried to get Aavielle from her mother.
“Ma’am, do you have the baby?… OK, ma’am, listen, do you have the baby?”
The caller apparently succeeded.
“She was shot right under her right arm,” the caller reported. “There’s a hole in her shirt.”
“Get the baby flat on her back, nothing underneath her. We need to start mouth-to-mouth.”
“Blood is coming out of her nose.”
“We need to start mouth-to-mouth. Clean out her mouth. Ma’am? Hello?”
“I’m here. I’m here. I’m trying to do what you say.”
“With her head tilted straight back, you need to completely cover her nose and mouth with your mouth. Blow two puffs of air into the lungs, one second each, just enough to make her chest rise with each breath. Do that now.”
“OK, that’s what I’m trying to do. My mouth over her mouth and nose. What do I do then?”
“Blow two puffs of air one second each. Do you feel the air going in and out? Do you see the chest rising when you do it? Ma’am?”
Paramedics arrived. An ambulance rushed Aavielle to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. But the bullet had done what bullets are designed to do, just as the bullets had in the mass shooting in Oregon that had the country stunned and President Obama outraged.
In Cleveland, Police Chief Calvin Williams was left in tears by little Aavielle’s death.
“Enough is enough,” Williams said at a press conference. “When are we going to stop counting babies killed out there?”
But the rest of the country would not likely have paid much attention even if we had not been focused on the killing of nine at Umpqua.
Two other children, ages 3 and 5, had been killed in Cleveland during the previous month and the nation had not even shrugged.
No wonder a monster such as the gunman in Oregon felt he needed to kill as many people as possible to get the attention he craved.
And there is nothing new about this indifference when even young children are shot to death one or two at a time. No uproar had ensued after a study by the Children’s Defense Fund found that in 2007 more preschoolers than police officers were shot to death.
Number of preschoolers killed by guns: 87
Number of police officers killed by guns: 68
Among the school-age kids this year was 9-year-old Jamyla Bolden. She was killed in August by a stray round as she sat doing her homework on her mother’s bed in Ferguson, a block from where protests had erupted after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a cop.
No demonstrations, no national debate followed Jamyla’s death. The kiddie carnage continued.
This past September, a 2-year-old was shot in the face in Memphis and a 5-year-old was killed by a stray round in Kansas City, as was a 7-year-old at a birthday party in Charlotte. A 10-year-old was shot in Milwaukee, where 11 children were shot last year.
And now we have a dead 5-month-old.
“A baby baby?” the 911 dispatcher asked when first told.
“A baby,” the caller confirmed.
As of Monday afternoon, the police reported no arrests in the shooting despite having offered a $25,000 reward for information. The funeral for Aavielle Nevaeh Wakefield will be held on Thursday morning at Mount Zion Church of Oakwood Village. Obama is not expected to attend.
Aavielle’s family notes that her middle name is “Heaven” spelled backward. She no doubt would have delighted in such word magic had she lived to learn her ABCs.
She leaves us a country that barely seemed to notice when yet another child was shot to death before she was old enough to die in a school shooting.