Sunday, July 22, 2001

Toddler recovers from gunshot

2-year-old boy was caught in cross fire

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Devonte Williams, 2, had spent the day swimming and had just finished a vanilla ice cream cone when he became the youngest casualty in a surge of violence on Cincinnati's streets.

Devonte Williams is watched over by his mother Carmaleetta Ross. He will recover, doctors say.
(Yuli Wu photo)
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        He, his mother and 6-year-old brother Alfonso were walking toward a bus stop in Over-the-Rhine, ready to return to their North Fairmount apartment, when they got caught in the cross fire of what police say was a running gunbattle in the 1300 block of Vine Street.

        Devonte screamed when the first bullets flew. His mother, Carmaleetta “Coko” Ross, presumed his cries were from fear. Then she looked down and saw her young son bleeding profusely. A bullet entered his right side, grazed his liver and exited the other side.

        “He lost so much blood. They were shooting everywhere. There's too many guns on the streets. They're hurting kids,” she said, speaking from Devonte's bedside Saturday at Children's Hospital Medical Center. He was listed in serious condition after doctors performed surgery to repair his liver.

Devonte with brother Alfonso, 6.
(Family photo)
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        The child spent the day slipping in and out of consciousness. He has a scar that stretches from his chest to his navel. It will be a permanent reminder of what happened Friday.

        As he tossed and turned, his mother stayed by his side. She was pleased that Devonte was finally breathing on his own but she continued to clutch his hand and assure him of her presence.

        “I'm here,” she said, rubbing at the whimpering child's knee.

        Devonte was the 78th person shot in 60 incidents in Cincinnati since the protests and riots of April.

        Cincinnati police want to question two men — Dominick Mitchem, 24, who is thought to live at 14th and Race streets, and another at-large suspect who is described as black, 5 feet, 7 inches tall, 155 pounds, and wearing gray shorts.

        Mr. Mitchem was arrested at 3 a.m. Saturday at his girlfriend's South Fairmount residence on open warrants. He has not been charged in the shooting of Devonte.

Devonte's mom keeps close watch on him.
(Yuli Wu photo)
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        On Saturday, Over-the-Rhine residents joined Devonte's family in saying that the shooting of a 2-year-old is a clear indicator that the violence has gone too far.

        “It just shows that things are out of control when (someone) comes by and shoots a 2-year-old kid,” said C. Jones, 70, who has lived in Over-the-Rhine for 30 years.

        Former Hamilton County Judge Leslie Gaines passed out fliers in the neighborhood Saturday that simply said, “Enough is enough.”

        “People are saying, of course, that there are a lot of guns in the streets and a lot of guns are involved. No matter what the reasons, shooting innocent babies is above and beyond anything,” said Mr. Gaines, who has been walking streets as part of an anti-violence campaign.

        Police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd said Devonte's shooting will heighten the efforts of a new violent-crimes task force of 70 officers.

        Witnesses to Friday evening's shooting said they saw a car going down Vine Street and that its passengers were men shooting guns into the air. Ms. Ross said she and her young family were walking by a small park area known for drug activity when a white convertible pulled up along the curb. Someone got out and began shooting at a man down the street.

        The man returned fire in a block that is home to apartments, an art store, laundry and convenience store. Ms. Ross thought 12 shots were fired.

        Once the shooting stopped and Ms. Ross realized Devonte was hurt, a stranger who introduced himself as “Lump” scooped the family into his car and rushed them to University Hospital, where the toddler was transferred to Children's Hospital.

        The child was in the operating room within hours. Doctors repaired his liver and told the family that he will heal.

        Ms. Ross works at a clothing store in Over-the-Rhine. She and her children have a family fun day routine in summer that entails going to Washington Park pool and their favorite ice cream spot.

        The recent shootings had worried her. Alfonso didn't want to spend Friday in Over-the-Rhine because he has been scared. But she assured him that nothing could happen if they just went swimming and ate some ice cream.

        Now, she plans to move back with her parents, Curtis and Anita Evans of Springfield Township. She thinks she'll be safe there.

        Her family, which has surrounded her since Devonte was rushed to the hospital, was able to laugh and talk about Devonte's happy spirit and sweet nature on Saturday. On Friday, they could offer only tears and prayers.

        “They're getting too carried away with it,” Mrs. Evans said. “It's time for it to stop. Instead of talking it out, they're just taking out their guns.”

        Robert Anglen contributed to this story.


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