Sunday, July 29, 2001

A child scarred by violence

Toddler caught in cross-fire leaves hospital

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Devonte Ross is held by his father, Alfonso Williams, before leaving Children's Hospital Medical Center on Saturday.
(Tony Jones photos)
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        The youngest, most innocent casualty of Cincinnati's unprecedented violence will heal physically. But doctors remain uncertain about his psychological well-being.

        Devonte Ross, 2, left Children's Hospital Medical Center on Saturday with a clean bill of health. He had been there since July 20, when he was shot in Over-the-Rhine.

        Guided by their mother, Carmaleetta “Coko” Ross, he and his 6-year-old brother had finished eating ice cream cones when a gun battle broke out on Vine Street. A bullet entered Devonte's lower torso, hit his liver and diaphragm, and exited the other side.

        Those who love Devonte wonder whether this child — a troubling symbol of what Cincinnati's violence has accomplished — will keep suffering from nightmares that cause him to whimper and twitch awake. They also hope that he returns to his normal, energetic self. At the hospital, he was quiet and rarely ate.

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

        “I don't think he knows ... even though he saw the gun. He doesn't know why he's hurt. He's been rubbing (the scar) like he's trying to get used to it. I guess I just have to pray,” she said.

        Ms. Ross had hoped that her son's injuries would make everyone think before picking up a gun. Now, she just hopes that they stop using the riots and Cincinnati police as an excuse.

[photo] Carmaleetta “Coko” Ross bends down to pick up Devonte.
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        “They're letting guns control them. The police have nothing to do with it. That's real old. The white-man story is really old. They're using it as an excuse,” she said. “Enough is enough and little babies are getting shot.”

        Devonte's family knew that he'd be OK soon after he was shot. Surgeons repaired his liver and diaphragm.

        Throughout the week, he received morphine, codeine and eventually Tylenol to deal with the pain from a surgical incision on his chest.

        Devonte was moving slowly on Saturday, but Dr. Brad Warner said the child will be able to run and play like other 2-year-olds within several weeks.

        “There's nothing at this point to make us think he won't be normal,” Dr. Warner said. “The important thing at this point is his psychological well-being. Those are the kind of scars that will be lifelong.”

Devonte's day

        On Saturday morning, Devonte was still in the hospital. He cuddled at his mother's side. He wasn't interested in the cartoons on TV or the food that his father, Alfonso Williams, offered him.

        By the afternoon, doctors had removed staples from Devonte's belly and he wore a new pair of Nike Air Jordan tennis shoes and a T-shirt that said “Stop the Violence.”

        “I'm ready,” he said, when his mother asked if he was ready to go home.

        At 3 p.m., he was at his grandparents' home. He walked slowly, but he seemed determined to pet their dog, Lexie. Within a half hour, he thrilled his family by eating three bites of a bacon omelette.

        Devonte's parents are hopeful. They thanked all of the strangers who supported their son with prayers and cards, balloons, and stuffed animals sent to the hospital.

        They said they want to provide Devonte with a safe, normal environment, which they know will help Devonte recover physically and emotionally. That's why he, his mother, and brother are staying in Springfield Township until Ms. Ross can find a new job and apartment.

        She had been working at a clothing store in Over-the-Rhine and renting a North Fairmount apartment when Devonte was shot. She doubts that she'll ever take him to the swimming pool and ice cream place that they visited before the shooting.

        “I just have to learn from my mistakes,” Ms. Ross said. “We're just blessed. He's healthy. He's OK. Hopefully, it opened up a lot of people's eyes.”

        A fund has been started for Devonte's family. To contribute, send checks in the name of Devonte Ross to any Provident Bank branch.


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