In the holiday program at Monahan Elementary School outside Houston, Jazmine Barnes and her friend Sydne Hall were up on the stage, beaming alongside their fellow second graders.
“Jazmine was on the right—my daughter, the left,” Sydne’s father, Terrance Hall, told the Daily Beast. “They sang as a chorus.”
Hall described the event with a single exultant word.
The two 7-year-olds then went their separate ways to begin their Christmas break. Sydne was with her grandmother when the news broke on Sunday that a Monahan student had been shot to death. The grandmother showed Sydne a picture of the murdered girl.
“Oh wow, that’s my classmate,” Sydne said.
Sydne said little more.
“She was quiet, just thinking,” the father later said.
As the whole country came to learn, Jazmine had been riding in a car with her mother and three sisters near a local Walmart at 7 a.m. when a grizzled man in a red pickup truck began firing at them without any apparent provocation or reason. The man has not yet been apprehended, and Sydne seemed acutely aware that mortal danger was still out there as she rode in her father's car.
“She'll be looking out the window, quiet,” the father said.
The father himself remained on full alert in a realm of seemingly countless pick-up trucks.
“Being very careful,” he said.
At bedtime, Sydne was unable just to snuggle up in the safety of home and escape into some happy childhood dream as on other nights. The quiet was joined by a nervousness.
“It's hard for her to go to sleep,” the father said.
Terrance Hall is a pastor and on Friday he went with Jasmine's father, Chris Cevilla, to a local funeral home.
Cevilla had spoken of Jazmine on Monday and described her as loving and passionate and innocent and “very smart in school.” Cevilla now saw his daughter's body for the first time and beheld all that a fatal bullet can take away. She would never rise from this child-sized coffin and return to school and continue a life that was beginning with such magic and promise.
“No first dance, no prom, no graduation,” Terrance Hall noted.
A Justice for Jazmine rally is planned for Saturday at noon in the parking lot of the Walmart on the East Beltway, the scene of the shooting. Sydne plans to be there and has said she also wants to attend the funeral on Tuesday, which would have been her and Jazmine’s first day back at school after the Christmas break.
Sydne also figures on participating in a release of purple balloons, that being Jazmine’s favorite color. Balloon releases are an increasingly common ritual at funerals and memorials for children who fall victim to gunfire.
Releases over the past year included one for 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson of Washington, D.C., who was killed by a stray round when four gang members with handguns and an assault rifle sprayed an area with 76 bullets. The killers made a video that same night in which they rapped the line “Homicide—we the reason why the murder rate high.”
Makiyah’s favorite color was red, and dozens of balloons of that hue rose skyward in her memory, ascending over a city where the murder rate is indeed up 40 percent. They reached a bird’s-eye view of the White House and the Capitol, where nothing meaningful is being done as an average of four children a day are shot to death in this country.
To do something about this unconscionable carnage would require doing something about guns and the root causes of violence. Our president instead chooses to exaggerate a threat at our southern border and promises that he can make us safe simply by building a wall. Trump actually had this to say about his wall on Thursday while having nothing at all to say about Jazmine’s murder:
“We need protection in our country.”
Right about then, police in Texas were releasing a sketch that showed Jazmine’s killer to be a decidedly Caucasian-looking man who did not likely slip into the U.S. through an unsecured stretch of our border with Mexico.
The tallest, strongest, HUUUGEst wall in the world would not have kept this killer out because he was already among us.
And the killing of Jazmine—whose family is black—becomes all the more all-American with the possibility that it may have been racially motivated.
The purple balloons for Jazmine will sail skyward and drift off with the wind. Sydne will be left to ride home with her father, no doubt quietly looking out the window and thinking. Let us hope that by then Sydne’s father will be able to tell her that the killer has been caught and is no longer out there for her to worry about.
But her father will never be able to tell her that the world is not a place where you can sing with your friend at a Holiday Show that is pure joy and then learn that she has been murdered by a madman with a gun.
Her father will also will not be able to tell her that the enormity of Jazmine’s murder will prompt meaningful change.
Sydne is expected to be back at school on Wednesday, but without Jazmine.