Detroit— Jakari Pearson, an 8-year-old baseball fan who was shot and killed as he slept in his bed Wednesday, was the latest casualty in a city that has lost nearly 500 children to homicides since 2000.
Wednesday night, dozens of people gathered in front of the Jakari’s home to lay candles at a memorial in front of a growing collection of stuffed animals on the steps to the door. Above the mementos were handmade signs with messages such as "Give our children a chance — take a stand" and "Children are the future! Stop the violence."
On a black railing, Jennifer Teed, Jakari’s second-grade art teacher, tied yellow and orange scarves he loved waving in dramatic presentations.
"He was very theatrical, even though he was shy," she said. "He liked to dance and act out."
Some who gathered spoke youth in the neighborhood about the importance of community and recognizing the impact of one’s actions.
"I tried to get through to these guys that it's not all about self," said Edmoun Spears, 26, who lives with his girlfriend and their children several doors down. "Respect the other people around."
The weight of the tragedy brought out longtime neighborhood residents such as Tyrail Kendricks.
"When you lose a little one like that, it's terrible," he said.
Jakari died at about 1:15 a.m. from a high-powered rifle opened fire outside the rear of his unit in the Brewster Homes complex, in the 600 block of East Street near Interstate 75 and Mack, where sporadic gunfire isn’t unusual.
But the booming nosies that shook Tenesha Higgins early Wednesday were just too close.
“I haven’t been to sleep,” Higgins told the Associated Press. “I don’t feel safe at all. I didn’t go to work today. I didn’t want to leave my baby.”
Large bullet holes pockmarked the outer brick wall of the townhouse, along with a single bullet-hole in Jakari’s bedroom window. Police say one of the bullets struck the Spain Elementary School student in the upper body.
The blasts, along with a woman’s shrieks, jolted neighbor Beatrice Spears awake. She ran from her nearby unit to find a grisly scene.
“The police were just taking Jakari out of the house,” she said. “They were trying to bring him back alive, doing chest compressions.”
An ambulance arrived and rushed the boy to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators took a man identified as a “person of interest” into custody, and were interviewing him Wednesday.
“The person we are talking to has not been arrested or been identified as a suspect in the shooting,” Sgt. Mike Woody said. “He’s nothing more than a person of interest in this case and is being interviewed.
“He did not voluntarily come to us but was found through good, old-fashioned police work, plus tips from the community.”
As the media gathered at the housing complex Wednesday morning, Jakari’s distraught father, Jamre Pearson, charged at reporters before being restrained and taken back to Jakari’s grandmother’s unit.
According to family at the scene, the shooter may have been a jealous suitor who had recently broke up with the victim’s mother.
Jakari’s front porch and steps were adorned with a baseball-shaped balloon bearing the written message, “Luv U J.,” dozens of teddy bears and other stuffed animals, and two hand-lettered signs. One, which Spears said was made by children in the apartment complex, said, “R.I.Paradise Angel (Jakari P.)”
Earlier Wednesday, a superhero-themed bed sheet lay on the porch, although it was later removed.
“It’s a shame our kids have to deal with something like this,” said Spears, who sat on a neighbor’s porch Wednesday afternoon, watching her two sons, ages 7 and 10 — Jakari’s classmates at Spain — play in the courtyard, just yards from the shooting scene.
“My 10-year-old came outside (after the shooting) and saw his friend,” she said. “I tried to tell him it was going to be OK. He said, ‘Jakari didn’t do anything to anyone.’ I had to send him home. He’s a strong boy, but this is really bothering him. You can imagine.”
A Detroit News report in January found that in 2010, the last year for which statistics were available, Detroit had a homicide rate of 15.7 per 100,000 children through age 18 — the highest in the nation. Chicago was second with 13.4 per 100,000.
Nearly 500 Detroit children have died in homicides since 2000 — an average of nearly three dozen a year.
Staff writer Mark Hicks contributed.