Six-month-old Miracle Murray was so named because her mother’s pregnancy was so precarious.
The baby had become a bubblingly happy and healthy victory over the odds as she took in the delights of springtime outside her family’s house in Detroit early Saturday afternoon. The sun was out and the sky was clear. The temperature was in the 60s with just a slight easterly wind, perfect for Miracle and the other babies out with her, aged four months and 11 months.
A silver Saturn car appeared from out of the splendor, rolling past once and then again with three men, two in the front. The one in the back suddenly opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol.
The primary target apparently was the 24-year-old man out watching the three babies. He was shot in the hip and the leg.
But police say the rest of the bullets were not just stray rounds, that the gunfire was also directed at the babies. The child who had seemed so lucky just to be alive was hit.
“My baby, my baby has been shot!” a voice cried out.
A cousin named Tia Murray heard the shots from down the block and raced up. She placed the baby in her car and sped to the nearest hospital, running one red light after another.
The baby was beyond saving. One can only imagine how the hospital staff and the cops and the medical examiner felt as they did the paperwork, entering the first name of Detroit’s newest and youngest homicide victim.
Police soon arrested two men and, as of Monday afternoon, were continuing to look for a third. One of the two in custody, Jose Jackson, had also been a suspect in the Easter morning shooting of another child, 3-year-old Aniaya Montgomery.
Aniaya had been asleep in bed with her mother when three gunmen kicked in the front door of her family’s home. The gunmen shot two adult males, wounding them critically. They missed Aniaya’s mother, but fatally shot the child.
“We all stand here time after time and we always say one homicide is one too many,” Sgt. Michael Woody of the Detroit police told the press afterward. “But now we’re talking about a 3-year-old child. Just a harmless child sleeping in bed next to her mother.”
Police briefly held Jackson as a suspect, but subsequently released him and charged three other men. Police continued to figure that Jackson had some connection to the killing. And for him also to figure in the murder of little Miracle led investigators to believe that the two child murders were related.
“They are definitely connected,” a police official said on Monday.
Police believe that the shootings are gang-related, but the motive was not immediately clear. One theory was that the gunmen were seeking revenge: You kill my baby and I kill yours. Another theory was that the gunmen had come to kill a witness and ended up killing a baby: You testify against me for killing a kid and look what happens to your kid.
A broader and indisputable common denominator shared by the two shootings is also shared by all shootings—guns.
The same day that baby Miracle was murdered in Detroit, a 12-year-old named Jajuan Latham was hit in the head by a stray round while sitting in the back of his father’s Chevy Tahoe.
Jajuan was the cousin of 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson, a high school football star who was shot to death last December while using his body to shield three girls when gang members in a car began firing at whoever happened to be in the street.
Three days after that Dec. 17 killing, President Obama tweeted, “Zaevion Dobson died saving three friends from getting shot. He was a hero at 15. What’s our excuse for not acting?”
Three weeks later, Obama spoke of Zaevion again, at the end of a passionate and at one moment tearful call for more effective gun control.
“If you have any doubt as to why you should feel that ‘fierce urgency of now,’ think about what happened three weeks ago,” Obama said. “Zaevion Dobson was a sophomore at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. He played football; beloved by his classmates and his teachers. His own mayor called him one of their city’s success stories. The week before Christmas, he headed to a friend’s house to play videogames. He wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hadn’t made a bad decision. He was exactly where any other kid would be. Your kid. My kids. And then gunmen started firing. And Zaevion— who was in high school, hadn’t even gotten started in life—dove on top of three girls to shield them from the bullets. And he was shot in the head. And the girls were spared. He gave his life to save theirs—an act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old. ‘Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.’”
Obama went on, “We are not asked to do what Zaevion Dobson did. We’re not asked to have shoulders that big; a heart that strong; reactions that quick. I’m not asking people to have that same level of courage, or sacrifice, or love. But if we love our kids and care about their prospects, and if we love this country and care about its future, then we can find the courage to vote. We can find the courage to get mobilized and organized. We can find the courage to cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do.”
He concluded, “And if we do, we’ll leave behind a nation that’s stronger than the one we inherited and worthy of the sacrifice of a young man like Zaevion.”
On Saturday, a celebrity basketball game was held to honor Zaevion’s memory and to call for an end to the continuing violence. His 12-year-old cousin, Jajuan, was among the very first to arrive.
Afterward, Jajuan climbed into the back of his father’s Tahoe. They stopped at a nearby park to pick up a friend before going to see a movie.
Suddenly, gunfire erupted between two gangs. Stray bullets from the crossfire shattered the windows of the Tahoe. The father, Hubert Latham, immediately turned to check on his son.
“The first thing I do is reach my son and I just realize he’s not moving, so I’m like, ‘What’s going on, is he asleep?’” the father later told a TV reporter. “When I picked him up, that’s when I realized, what I seen, blood.”
On the very day that little Miracle’s cousin raced toward the nearest hospital with her in Detroit, Jajuan’s father raced toward the nearest hospital with him in Knoxville.
“I just went crazy and rushed him to the UT [University of Tennessee] hospital,” the father later told a reporter. "I got him there in like five minutes, but I can say he was strong though. Those little last moments he had, he was real strong.”
The subsequent police report would read, “A Chevy Tahoe with several windows shot out arrived at the emergency room. The driver of the Tahoe entered the emergency room carrying his 12-year-old son, Jajuan Hubert Latham. Latham was suffering from a gunshot wound to the head.”
The father waited as the trauma team gave their all.
“I knew he was going to pull through,” the father later said. “It broke my heart 30 minutes later when they came out and told me my son was dead.”
Of Jajuan’s last hours, the father said, “We went and had a good time and he was a good kid and they took my son’s life.”
The police report notes, “Jajuan died shortly after 11 p.m.”
Jajuan joined Miracle and Aniaya and all the others who have fallen victim to gun violence since Obama called us to summon just a modicum of the courage that Zaevion had shown.
On Sunday, Jajuan’s family and friends held a vigil in Knoxville.
“I just want him to be remembered for who he was,” the father said. “He made everybody laugh. He was a good guy, funny dude.”
That was the same day Bernie Sanders held his big rally in Brooklyn and spoke of seemingly everything except the victims of the products produced by the industry he voted to make the one in America exempt from legal liability. He decries bank profits but not gun-industry profits and barely mentions the horrific cost to so many innocents.
In a Politico podcast released Monday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand suggested, “[Sanders] doesn’t have the sensitivity he needs to the horror that is happening in these families. I just don’t think he’s fully getting how horrible it is for these families.”
Gillibrand allowed, “I was somebody who was not as focused on this, as I should have been, as a House member. Meeting these families devastated me, broke my heart.”
In fact, Gillibrand had been pro-gun during her days in the House of Representatives. She actively supported provisions that limit the data police can assemble on illegal guns. She even co-sponsored a bill to repeal all firearms restrictions in the District of Columbia.
“The District of Columbia shall not have authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms,” the bill, HR6691, stated.
She sounded a little like upstate New York’s answer to Sarah Palin as she bragged of her mother being “the best shot in the family.”
The same day Gillibrand was appointed to fill the Senate seat that Hillary Clinton vacated to become Secretary of State, nearly 2,000 of her new constituents attended the wake of a 17-year-old Brooklyn honor student named Nyasia Pryear-Yard. Nyasia had been killed by a bullet gang members fired blindly into a crowded dance party.
The funeral was held at St. Fortunata’s Church on Gillibrand’s first full day as a senator. She was not in attendance as the priest, the Rev. Vincent Miceli, told the mourners, “In no language in the world is there a word to describe the pain of a parent losing a child. How many more young people will die for no reason and what are you going to do about it?"
As was reported by the New York Daily News, what the principal of Nyasia’s school did was invite Gillibrand and the governor who appointed her, David Patterson, to visit.
Barbara Gil, principal of Nazareth High School, said, “If Gov. Paterson or Ms. Gillibrand want to know firsthand the effect guns on the street have, let them come to Nazareth and speak to my kids who will tell them of the heartache and fear they have. Many have lost friends and loved ones to gun violence; many are afraid to go out to a party for fear of getting shot. I’ve had parents tell me they won’t even let their children dump the garbage at night for fear they will be shot. Is this the way for our children to live?”
In the meantime, Gil had wallet-sized prints made of what was to have been Nyashia’s graduation picture. The prints were given to her classmates on their first day back at school since the shooting.
“Kids hysterically crying on the floor; big football players,” Gil remembered. “It was a horrible thing to see.”
That also happened to be Inauguration Day and Gil set up a big screen so the students could watch Barack Obama take the oath of office.
“Kids were applauding through tears,” Gil said.
Gil decided to leave Nyasia’s chair in homeroom empty for Gillibrand to see if she visited. A sign was affixed to the classroom wall.
“If there is a better solution, find it.”
To her great credit, Gillibrand did come. She began by meeting privately with the murdered girl’s parents. She then spoke to the students in the chapel.
To her greater credit, Gillibrand actually listened. She departed promising to do all she could to keep illegal guns off the street.
“I will be a fighter,” she pledged.
Nyasia’s mother, Jennifer Pryear, dared to be hopeful.
“Maybe we enlightened her today,” the mother said. “I’m hoping she lives up to what she says.”
Gillibrand did indeed seem to do what she could in circumstances where nobody seems able to do anything. And she continued to meet with the parents who have suffered a loss for which there is no name.
“It’s so crippling—I mean, I sat down with a mother last week in Brooklyn, and she lost her 4-year-old baby … she took her kid to a park,” she reported in the Politico podcast Monday, “Every mom takes their kid to a park. And she took her kid to a park and the kid was killed, a baby, a 4-year-old.”
She spoke as proof that a politician can learn and grow. Maybe someday a presidential ballot will offer the name Gillibrand. We could do worse and we presently are.
And the list of murdered innocents keeps growing, now including a baby named Miracle.