Detroit girl shot in drive-by urges witnesses to ‘please speak up’
India Williams can no longer ride her bicycle. But she can still swim. Still dream about going to Disney World. And hope the man who shot her and left her unable to walk will someday apologize.
“She’s a kid; she expects someone to say ‘I’m sorry’ if they did something to hurt her,” said the 9-year-old’s mother, Clinique Williams.
India was 7 when she was hit in the chest by a stray bullet Sept. 14, 2014, while riding her bike outside her house in the 20000 block of Charest on Detroit’s east side. The the driver of a white Chevy Impala fired at someone in a dark minivan as the two vehicles careened through the neighborhood at high speed.
India attended a Crime Stoppers of Michigan press conference with her family Tuesday to seek the public’s help in identifying who shot her. The reward for information leading to an arrest was $3,500.
During the press conference, Detroit firefighter Ron Jones, whose wife, Caren, cares for India at school, announced he would add $500 to the reward money, bringing the total to $4,000.
An additional $1,000 is offered for tips received by midnight Tuesday
India, wearing pink, played with her shirt and murmured when asked what she’d say to anyone who knows about the crime: “I want them to speak up. This should not happen. Please speak up.”
In the two years since India was injured, several other Detroit children have fallen to violence, including 3-year-old A’Naiya Montgomery, who was fatally shot Easter morning, and, two weeks later, 6-month-old Miracle Murray, the victim of retaliation for A’Naiya’s killing, police say.
Two months before India was shot, Jakari Pearson, 8, was killed in his sleep when a bullet penetrated the wall of his house.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Williams said. “You see all these kids getting killed in Detroit. At least my baby came back to me.”
Reginald Bassett, Williams’ neighbor, said Detroiters are becoming numb to violence against children.
“(India) was doing what a 7-year-old is supposed to do. She was told don’t go too far from the house, and she didn’t. Take your child and put them in her place. If I knew who was responsible, would you want me to speak up?
“I can’t understand how we’ve become so comfortable with what’s going on with our children.”
‘Our neighborhood angel’
India had returned from church and was riding her bicycle with other children when two vehicles screeched onto her block at about 5:38 p.m. Neighbors reported hearing several gunshots as the Impala tailed the minivan.
After the vehicles turned onto Charest, India was shot once in the chest, the bullet shattering her T-3 and T-4 vertebrae. India’s playmates ran into her house to tell her family what happened. A neighbor dialed 911.
Detroit Police Officers Eric Pengelly and Dan Balow responded to the emergency call, and decided not to wait on an ambulance. Pengally held India in the back seat while Balow drove to Children’s Hospital, where they arrived six minutes after receiving the initial 911 call.
The two officers were decorated for their actions, and since then the 11th Precinct has adopted India as their own, Cmdr. Timothy Leach said. Officers held a bowling fundraiser to help pay for medical costs and Christmas presents.
“We love her,” he said. “She’s our neighborhood angel. We’ve never stopped looking for the suspects. We recovered one of the vehicles, but whoever did this is still out there.
“We used to talk about the street code — but that code used to be (don’t do harm to) children. If we’re going to break the street code, then let’s break it, and someone speak up.”
Dream to ‘just be a kid’
Williams said India remains buoyant, despite what happened to her.
“This hasn’t changed her spirit. I think it’s harder on me than it is for her. She’s just a little girl. She’s silly. She loves swimming. She wants to go to Disney World; I told her ‘we’ll have to work on that.’
“My baby’s dream is to just be a kid. A normal kid. This has completely changed our lives. Her brother and sister (Takayla Pennix, 13, and Rodney Williams, 11) are emotionally just trying to keep their sister happy.
“As long as I keep seeing her smile, I’m OK. But deep inside, it’s a hurting feeling.”
Williams said her heart goes out to grieving parents every time she sees a news report about another child falling victim to violence.
“It’s hard to watch. It makes me relive that day.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, India had answered reporters’ questions in hushed tones, but after the briefing was over, she hugged a family friend’s baby for a few minutes, before throwing back her head and giggling.
“Now we get to go to the Rainforest Cafe.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers of Michigan at (800) SPEAK-UP.