3-year-old on trike hit with bullet intended for teen

The toddler's mother did not wait for an ambulance and drove the child to the hospital; the teen was also shot three times

By Lou Michel
The Buffalo News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Tracy Hollaman's 3-year-old son was riding his tricycle a few doors down from his grandfather's Fennimore Avenue house Monday night when a bullet intended for a nearby 14-year-old boy struck him in the chest.

Hollaman did not wait for an ambulance to arrive. Instead, she drove her critically wounded little boy to Erie County Medical Center.

The child was transferred to Women & Children's Hospital, where he was listed in critical but stable condition Tuesday and is expected to live.

So is 14-year-old Jamal Sanders, an eighth-grader who suffered bullet wounds to the neck, back and leg.

In the last two years, four youths 16 or younger have been killed on Buffalo streets.

"It's unfortunate that these things happen, but it is not unique to Buffalo," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Tuesday at a news conference in Niagara Square. "We're hoping to have a rapid conclusion in this latest shooting, just as we did in the death of a 13-year-old boy."

The commissioner was referring to last week's arrest of Jean Sanchez, also 13, who has been charged with strangling Ameer Al Shammari on May 2 in a field off Amherst Street in Black Rock. That killing was over a cellphone that the Sanchez youth allegedly stole from Ameer, who was trying to get it back from him.

The Rev. James E. Giles, president and CEO of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, which works with troubled young people, said the violence is emblematic of a generation that is adrift.

"It is almost a cultural phenomenon where you're starting to see children mimicking the behavior of the generation before them," Giles said. "Videos, gangster movies have glamorized this idea of shooting."

Homicide Squad detectives returned Tuesday afternoon to the shooting scene on the East Side, several houses from Suffolk Street in the city's Bailey-Kensington section, and continued questioning neighbors and searching for evidence. At the same time, Derenda, in appealing to the public, said, "We need all the help we can get on this one, but we are making some progress."

Why Jamal, who lives about a mile away from where he was shot, was targeted remains under investigation.

"We don't know. We're trying to find out if and why he was targeted," Derenda said. "It appears the 14-year-old may have been the intended target and that the 3-year-old was struck by a stray shot."

What is certain is that the shooter fired a number of bullets at about 8:25 p.m. Investigators recovered several shell casings in the driveway of 37 Fennimore, the area where the 3-year-old was shot. One witnesses told police someone ran from the scene in a black hooded sweatshirt.

Neighbors describe scene

Another said the person was seen cutting through a backyard over to Davidson Avenue and fled into a waiting red vehicle.

Outside 49 Fennimore -- a vacant house that has attracted groups for dice games and drug dealing -- Jamal collapsed on a patch of grass between the sidewalk and street. There, several white packages that had contained bandages lay discarded Tuesday morning.

One resident said he was in his home when he heard a series of gunshots right outside.

"I was working on my computer and went to the back window and could see one guy in another backyard, crouching and holding a pistol," he said. "He was talking to another guy who was in my backyard and had a shotgun. By the time I got to my window, the gunfire had stopped. The guy with the shotgun went over the fence to Davidson Avenue."

The young man with the handgun, the neighbor said, went in the opposition direction onto Fennimore.

"I went to my front porch and the guy with the pistol had come out and was standing above the wounded teenager," the resident said.

The resident thought the young people standing around the wounded teenager were his friends and at least two of them, those with the handgun and shotgun, had tried to go after the shooter.

Another Fennimore resident said he happened to be on Davidson when the shooting started. "I heard the shooting, and then I saw someone come out of a backyard onto Davidson and run into a red van," that resident said. "I heard like 10 shots and started looking for my kids, everyone started looking for their kids," said a mother of three, who declined to give her name.

Dan Robinson, who manages residential properties, showed up Tuesday to make sure the vacant house at 49 Fennimore had not been burglarized.

"It's been empty since April 1, and the kids keep on breaking in," he said. "They broke in once and we boarded it up and then they broke into it again and we boarded it up." A check of the property determined the house had not been entered, he added.

Debra Watts, Jamal's grandmother, said he left her home not long before the shooting occurred, probably to visit friends on Fennimore. "He's in the intensive care unit at Children's," she said. "Thank God my grandson is going to live. They have him sedated because he is in a lot of pain."

Watts said her grandson and his four sisters and their mother, Latoya Darby, all live with her and that Sanders is an eighth-grader at an elementary school in South Buffalo.

Hanging out on Fennimore

"He does real good in school. He's passing all his classes," Watts said. "He rides his bicycle everywhere. He's a happy, happy teenager. He's a clown."

Watts said it is common for young people to hang out on Fennimore. She urged police to increase their presence in city neighborhoods with the warmer weather arriving.

Her daughter and Jamal's father, Mark Sanders, she said, have been maintaining a vigil at Children's.

The mother of the 3-year-old boy had been visiting the boy's grandfather, whom police say was outside with the boy on Fennimore, several blocks from where the mother and child live. Neighbors there described the mother as a conscientious parent.

"She's very dutiful to her child. I see them together all the time," Carolyn Billyard said. "She never takes her eye off that boy."

Will Baxter said he occasionally saw the toddler out riding his tricycle in the company of his mother.

"He's always smiling. He's an innocent little child and what has happened is crazy," Baxter said. "Whoever did this is a coward and I hope they get caught."

Giles said society has to make an investment in young people. "There's a generation of young African-American boys with no supervised sports and there have been reductions in vocational programs and Common Core testing has made it impossible for them to stay in school and pass. It's too rigorous, so as a consequence they end up dropping out and become part of the street tapestry," he said.

And with youngsters out on the streets, he said, it is a sure recipe for trouble.

On Tuesday evening, Murray Holman, director of the Stop the Violence Coalition of Buffalo, brought together different community organizations and clergy for a gathering on Fennimore Avenue to put up a united front, making it clear that violence is unacceptable.

News Staff Reporter Jill Terreri contributed to this report.


(c)2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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