Vigil crowd mourns girl, 7, hears plea to end violence

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — She was everything a family would want a young girl to be: an honor roll student and a talented cheerleader with a bright future.

But instead of celebrating Chanell Berry’s eighth birthday on Monday, her family will bury the second-grade student after she was gunned down inside her home when it was hit by a hail of bullets in what police termed a domestic dispute on Dec. 27.

Friday evening, more than 100 supporters gathered at a candlelight vigil outside her family’s home on the city’s west side to celebrate Chanell’s young life and to call for the people responsible for her death to turn themselves in to police.

Several community activists urged participants to work to end violence against children and the community.

“We need to break the cycle and end the violence in the city of Detroit,” said DaNetta L. Simpson, a Detroiter who came from the east side. “If we don’t do this, how do we save our children?”

Chanell and Ellen Garjo were playing with their Christmas presents about 8:30 p.m. Dec. 27 when someone opened fire into their house. Chanell was killed; Ellen, 8, also was shot but is expected to recover.

On Wednesday, police released Sharonda Benson, a 23-year-old woman police named as a person of interest in the shooting, and a second person after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office announced it had returned a warrant request in the case back to Detroit police for further investigation.

The other person was identified as a 22-year-old man who was arrested while riding in the back seat of a taxicab on Joy Road near Evergreen.

Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said Friday the investigation is ongoing.

William Tandy, president of the Westside Cubs, a cheerleading club that Chanell was captain of, told the family during the vigil Friday that its members were there to help the family that day, the day of the funeral and every day after that.

An autopsy found that Chanell died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. The medical examiner formally identified the girl and ruled her death a homicide, spokesman Lloyd Jackson said.

Chanell’s mother, Kiana Johnson, was a part of the vigil and was heard weeping on the porch outside her home, where more than a 100 people held candles and released eight pink balloons in Chanell’s memory.

Chanell’s aunt Gwen Sparks said the family is devastated over the child’s death and wants to know why Benson is free.

“She needs to be in jail,” Sparks said of the woman named as a person of interest in the case. “That was our baby. ...We have to bury her on her birthday. That is just not right.”

According to police reports of the incident, Benson was at the house about two hours before the shooting.

In the seconds after the shooting, the family didn’t wait for an ambulance, putting the children into their Ford 500 and rushing them to Sinai-Grace Hospital.

Chanell was pronounced dead at 8:40 p.m. Dec. 27, the police report said.

Chanell’s uncle Dominique Johnson said he was with Chanell and the other child when they were playing with their Christmas presents. He left briefly, and when he returned he saw police and emergency vehicles and the media outside the house.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was playing with the kids and everything was normal and then I come back. ...” Johnson said. “We want justice for Chanell.”

Family members have started a GoFundMe page to help with funeral costs. By Friday, the effort had raised more than $5,500.