On New Year’s Day, a crowd of about 100 gathered on Steel Street on the city’s northwest side to mourn the death of 7-year-old Channell Berry, who earlier that week was killed by a stray bullet while playing with her Christmas presents.
As 2016 nears the halfway point, Detroit’s list of child casualties grows, a problem underscored by two cases this week involving toddlers close to their third birthdays. It brings to eight the number of youths injured or killed by gunfire in Detroit in the past two months.
“It drops me to my knees every time,” said Andrea Clark, president of Mothers of Murdered Children.
Makanzee Oldham was clinging to life Thursday after being shot in the head the day before reportedly by a man after an argument over Kool-Aid. Police arrested the suspect, Cleveland Smelley, in Oak Park on Thursday afternoon after a massive manhunt.
Makanzee, whose third birthday is June 13, was on life support after the bullet caused massive swelling of the brain, her great-uncle said.
The shooting happened on the same day the body of Aaron Minor was found, who likely was left alone in an apartment for nine days while his mother was hospitalized, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.
The boy likely died before his third birthday, which was Monday, the source said. Police tracked down his mother Thursday in a hospital psychiatric ward.
Aaron’s body showed no visible signs of trauma, but police still are investigating his death as a possible homicide, and are waiting for the Wayne County Medical Examiner to determine a cause of death, the source said.
The spate of child victims began with the Easter morning drive-by fatal shooting of A’Naiya Montgomery, 3. Since then, at least seven children ages 15 and under have been shot. Three suffered self-inflicted wounds.
Also Thursday, four adult relatives of two Detroit children who have shot themselves recently, one fatally, while under the relatives’ care were arraigned Thursday in 36th District Court.
Patricia McNeal and Frederick Davis, 65-year-old grandparents of Mariah Davis, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, felony firearm and three counts of second-degree child abuse, while Davis also faces a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Their 5-year-old granddaughter found a gun under a pillow on a bed and fatally shot herself in the neck.
Joseph Williams, 80, great-grandfather of Aiden Drewery, 4, and his mother, Andrea Drewery, 30, were charged with second-degree child abuse and felony firearm.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, in announcing charges against the two on Wednesday, called on gun owners to secure their firearms and keep them unloaded around children. She said the shootings of youth when they find weapons are “totally ... absolutely preventable” and called for more criminal penalties where “negligible” gun ownership is at fault.
The prosecutor called for safety classes and local hospital officials to reach out to pediatricians about programs to educate parents about gun ownership.
The flurry of cases involving children has residents and police angry and grappling for answers.
Clark said old wounds are opened every time a child is killed in Detroit.
“The emotions from the mothers who have already been through this become fresh all over again when we hear about these babies getting killed,” she said.
Assistant Police Chief Steve Dolunt urged a change from the city’s violent culture.
“You gotta have a license to drive a car but there’s no one to teach you to be a parent,” he said during a Thursday news conference announcing the arrest of Smelley, who allegedly was arguing with McKenzie’s relatives when he pulled out his gun and opened fire, the bullet striking the toddler in the head.
“This (violence) is learned behavior.”
A 2014 Detroit News investigation found nearly 500 Detroit children have died in homicides since 2000. And the killing is unabated.
Last week, 9-year-old India Williams attended a Crime Stoppers of Michigan news conference to ask the public’s help in finding the man who shot her while she was riding her bicycle two years ago, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
On April 16, 6-month-old Miracle Murray was killed as she played with two other children on the front lawn of her home on Winthrop. Police say the shooting was retaliation for A’Naiya’s Easter morning killing.
Miracle’s mother said her daughter’s name reflects the fact she didn’t think her baby would survive her pregnancy. Another Detroit child named for similar reasons, 3-year-old Amiracle Williams, was killed two years ago after retaliation over a Facebook dispute.
Dolunt on Thursday questioned the reasons why some people start shooting.
“I just heard it was a stupid argument over Kool-Aid,” he said, referring to Makanzee’s shooting. “You can agree to disagree.”
The girl was identified Thursday by her great-uncle, Michael Oldham, who told The Detroit News the girl is “barely alive” in St. John Hospital.
“She’s still hanging on, but it’s pretty critical,” he said. “The family is trying to hold it together.”
Smelley, a neighbor of the girl’s father, allegedly “went up to the vehicle they were sitting in and opened fire,” Officer Jennifer Moreno said Wednesday. The girl was struck but her father was uninjured. Two other children were in the vehicle and escaped unscathed, police said.
Michigan Department of Corrections records show Smelley has been sentenced for assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and felony firearms.
In the case of Aaron Minor, a police source told The News the boy likely sat alone in his apartment since May 16, when neighbors dialed 911 to report the boy’s mother was outside her apartment, wheezing.
An EMS crew arrived and took the woman to a Detroit hospital without going inside her apartment, the source said.
She was then taken to Ann Arbor, released Tuesday and entered psychiatric treatment, Moreno said.
Police did not release the mother’s name, but family identified her as Deanna Minor.
“Deanna had some problems, but social services was supposed to be working with her,” said Minor’s grandmother, Beverly Mylum. “She was a loving and giving mother. I didn’t see any signs of abuse.”
“She was going through depression for a very long time,” Mylum continued. “She just snapped. She was quiet. I have no knowledge of alcohol or drugs.”
Mylum described Aaron as an average toddler who was well groomed. She also said her granddaughter kept a clean home.
Mylum said it’s hard to express how it feels to lose a child. “I’ve lost one and I know it’s painful.”
Clark, whose group provides peer support and other services to mothers of homicide victims, said the violence eludes answers.
“We’ve got to do something, but there are no concrete answers. I don’t know what the answer is. I wish I did.”
Staff Writers James Dickson, Candice Williams, Oralandar Brand-Williams and Mark Hicks contributed.