Hempstead girl, 7, recovers from bullet wound. Her family asks, 'Why?'
In a span of just minutes, a 7-year-old Hempstead girl went from playing outside her grandmother's apartment to bleeding from a gunshot wound and seeking answers to a question no child should ever have to ask — "Am I going to die?”
She luckily survived after being hit by a stray bullet Saturday afternoon. But her emotional recovery is just beginning, said the girl's family, who have questions of their own about the shooting, which could have ended with them "making funeral arrangements,” said Patricia Murphy, the child's grandmother.
“She was screaming as we pulled off her jacket. She asked, ‘Why would they shoot me? I’m just a kid.' She asked, ‘Am I going to die?'" Murphy recounted in her Hempstead apartment Wednesday. “Thank God she’s alive."
The girl was released from Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre after the shooting and was set to return Wednesday so a physician could examine her wound, her family said.
The shooting outside the Evans Avenue apartment complex left family members questioning how the young girl could have been caught in the crossfire, and community leaders decrying gun violence. Hempstead officials and police offered few answers about what led up to the shooting, but said they are close to making an arrest.
Hempstead Police Chief Paul Johnson said detectives did not know if the girl was caught in gunfire from gang violence or what else could have prompted gunfire. He did say she was not the target of the bullet that pierced her arm.
“I’ve seen some heartless people, but not to shoot a 7-year-old,” Johnson said. “She was just there — playing outside.”
Elected leaders and gun advocates stood in front of Hempstead Village Hall on Wednesday and called for tougher gun legislation and a bill by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) to increase penalties for trafficking illegal guns from southern states to New York up the I-95 corridor, which has been dubbed “The Iron Pipeline.”
Thomas said the shooter who struck the girl was believed to be a young man who should not have had access to a gun.
“There’s a sense of urgency spreading across communities in New York, not just in Hempstead, that people don’t feel safe and we need to change that,” Thomas said. “The one major factor when how gun violence happens and that’s easy access. These gun cartels think they can flood our streets with dangerous weapons because current laws on criminal possession are too lax.”
Hempstead officials said they have seized 70 other illegal handguns in the village but it remained unclear whether the weapon used Saturday had been purchased illegally.
Family members said the girl was with her younger brother and cousin outside Murphy's apartment when, the grandmother said, she saw a man dressed in all black, wearing a ski mask. Murphy said she ushered the children to the backyard when gunfire erupted.
The wounded girl's mother, Radiah Simmons, said she called police but after waiting for officers to arrive, jumped into a car and rushed her daughter to the hospital.
“I just went into survival mode to make sure my baby was OK,” Simmons said. “People just shoot when they feel like it. I don’t know how to explain it. Bullets have no name. We know they weren’t trying to shoot a child. But when you start letting off shots, anyone can get hit.”
The girl, who was running track and on debate teams at her grade school, is now afraid to play outside. Family members said violence has plagued the community.
Murphy said she doesn’t want to move but worries about her family’s safety after similar shootings injured children in Brooklyn. She said her granddaughter is now afraid to visit, and Murphy fears washing dishes in front of her kitchen window. She wondered where the guns are coming from and how the violence can be stopped.
“She cried this morning and said, she's scared to go outside like this," Murphy said of her granddaughter. "It's just too much. Something has to be done. That happens over and over again. She's seven years old. … We are losing too many children. You have someone walking up and shooting in broad daylight … This is terrible. I shouldn't have to live like that. No one should have to live like that.”