The common refrain of local gun violence

Courtland Milloy
Columnist December 16, 2012

In what passes for luck these days, 23-month-old Kodie “Cocoa” Brown was shot in the face — and survived. She was in her mother’s arms, about to board a Metrobus in Southeast Washington last week, when her father pulled a gun and began firing at them.

The mom, 20-year-old Selina Brown, who turned to shield the girl, was shot several times and died in the bus doorway. One of the bullets seared Cocoa’s face, burning a rivulet into a cheek below one eye, shattering the bridge of her nose and gouging out the brow over the other eye.

“Doctors say it was a miracle that it didn’t take her eyes out,” said Derrick Ferguson, Cocoa’s grandfather. “The friction of the bullet passing so close to her eyes has affected her sight, though, and because of the damage to her nose she is having difficulty breathing.”

And yet, breathe she does.

As we grieve over the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed Friday by a gunman, let’s not forget the needs of our little survivor here in the District.


Kodie “Cocoa” Brown, a 23-month-old girl, was in her mother’s arm when she was shot while about to board a Metro bus on Dec. 9. (Family photo)

“She wakes up every night, on the hour, screaming,” said Ferguson, a D.C. police officer who, along with his wife, Roshann, has been caring for Cocoa since her release Thursday from Children’s National Medical Center. “We really need a therapist to find out exactly what she saw that day.”

While we pray for the families of those slain at Sandy Hook, let’s make sure this girl at least gets the therapy she requires. The parents in Newtown lost their children, some as young as 6. It just doesn’t get any more painful than that. Unless you’re a little girl, one moment safe in your mother’s arms, the next covered in blood as your father shoots both of you, then flees, only to later kill himself.

Resist the tendency to forget. Even though the crime against her may pale in comparison with the horror of mass murder, those “non-life-threatening” gunshot wounds shouldn’t be dismissed.

On Dec. 1, for instance, a stray bullet came through the door of a home in Southeast and struck a
4-year-old boy in the hand. The media treated it as a “news brief.”

A kid shouldn’t have to live in, say, Georgetown for the city to be outraged.

All told, everyday killings in our region add up to ongoing mass murder. A D.C. school official told me that at least 42 people who either were attending Ballou High in Southeast or had recently left the school have been the victims of homicide during the past eight years. During school assemblies, whenever students are asked if they knew somebody who has been killed, nearly all raise their hands.

President Obama and more than 50 counselors went to Newtown to console the town. It was the right thing to do. But there are lots of hurting people in this city who could use some consoling, too.

We also need to strengthen our gun laws to make it much harder for people to buy guns, especially assault weapons, and we need to better care for those suffering from serious mental illness.

A few more concerned residents like the Boss Ladies social club in Maryland could make a big difference, too.

“We heard what happened, and it touched our hearts,” said Sharrtoria Cole, president of the group. They came to a small fundraiser for Cocoa held Saturday at the Koffee Lounge on Georgia Avenue. They brought toys and some nice clothes. But little in the way of funds has come in.

Ferguson is appreciative nonetheless.

From the lounge, he used a cellphone to call Cocoa at home and put the girl on speaker phone. “Tell the ladies, ‘Thank you,’ ” Ferguson said. A tiny voice replied, “Thank you.” And when the women from the social club said, “You’re welcome,” a stronger voice cried out from the other end, “Where’s mommy?”

Ferguson took a deep breath.

“Mommy’s in heaven,” he replied.

The answer does not satisfy.

“She wakes up angry, fighting, screaming for her mother,” Ferguson said. “All we can do is hug her, tell her, ‘This is papa, this is mama. We got you. We aren’t going to let anybody hurt you.’ Sometimes the only way she’ll calm down is seeing a picture of her mother.”

The Fergusons would like to start a college fund for Cocoa and provide her with a reasonably merry Christmas. Anyone wanting to help, I can tell you her dress size is 3T and she wears size 61 / 2 to 7 child’s shoe. She loves dolls and carries them on her hip the way her mother carried her. Gifts can be sent to Derrick Ferguson at 39371 / 2 Minnesota Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20019. And here’s a Paypal link for those wishing to send money.

“She has a long road ahead,” Ferguson said.

Sadly, tragically, she will have plenty of company along the way.

For previous columns by Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

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