Kodie “Cocoa” Brown, recovering from a gunshot wound she received three months ago, had a birthday party on Saturday. She is 2 years old. A surprise visit from her favorite cartoon characters Minnie and Mickey Mouse and Goofy made her smile.
Readers wanting an update on Kodie’s condition will be pleased to know that her wounds are healing. A bullet seared the little girl’s face, cutting under one eye and over the other. She’ll still need at least four more surgeries to repair damage to her left eye and soften the disfiguring scar.
But the injuries could have been much worse. Given the trajectory of the bullet, the difference between Kodie having a birthday party and a funeral was less than a centimeter.
“She’s had so many bad days that for her to have a day like this, it’s wonderful,” said Derrick Ferguson, Kodie’s maternal grandfather.
I sat at a table with the birthday girl and watched her share crayons with friends and draw in her Disney coloring book. Suddenly, she stopped to touch the scar beneath her eye. Then she just sat there, staring into space.
“We have to figure out what’s going on based on her actions because she can’t verbalize it,” Ferguson said.
After changing her dolls’ diapers, for instance, he said, Kodie will sometimes say, “Hi, Mommy,” and wave toward the sky. It is the behavior of a child wanting to impress a parent by showing what she’s learned.
“She doesn’t know why her mother left her,” Ferguson said, “but she’s doing everything she can think of to make her mother come back.”
The shooting occurred Dec. 9. Kodie was in her mother’s arms at a bus stop in Southeast Washington, listening to her parents argue, when her father pulled a handgun from under his shirt and opened fire. The mother, 20-year-old Selina Brown, was killed. The father fled to New York and killed himself.
The outpouring for Kodie, one of the District’s youngest victims of gun violence in recent memory, was overwhelming. By Christmas, she had received so many gifts from readers throughout the Washington area that she didn’t need any more toys for her birthday.
“Some mornings I’ll wake up, and she’ll be in the bed with 15 dolls,” Derrick Ferguson said.
The Fergusons are still working on setting up a trust fund for Kodie. This was delayed because they first had to get legal custody of the girl. They have also been trying to get assistance from the District’s Grandparent Caregiver Program. A large portion of Kodie’s medical expenses will have to be paid out of pocket. But the grandparent assistance program is for poor people only. Derrick Ferguson is a D.C. police officer; Roshann Ferguson works as a home-care aide.
Ironically, if they had let Kodie go into foster care, the city would end up paying a lot more for that.
Not that they would ever give her up.
“Kodie’s needs are just too great right now for us to even let her out of our sight,” Roshann Ferguson said. A bus surveillance video shows that Kodie was looking at her father, who was standing a little more than an arm’s-length away, when he shot her.
A few weeks ago, Kodie began seeing a therapist.
“We’re taking it step by step,” Derrick Ferguson said. “When she’s ready, the therapist will introduce a plastic gun to see what happens.”
But before that dreadful day arrives, there was a birthday to celebrate.
A group of volunteers, called Team Kodie, planned the party. Team Kodie had hired Mickey and his friends from A Clown 4 U, brought the balloons and made a cake.
Cola Arrington of District Heights and Dominick Russel of Fort Washington began the nonprofit team to entertain children whose lives had been affected by violence.
“What happened to Kodie just touched our hearts,” Arrington said.
I continue to hear from people wanting to help Kodie. Here’s the address again: 39371 / 2 Minnesota Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20019. This is a postal facility, not the Fergusons’ home. The employees there have graciously agreed to make sure that all deliveries reach the family. A PayPal account has been established for those who would like to make financial contributions.
During Kodie’s birthday party, Mickey had the DJ crank up some music and began a mouse hopper of a birthday dance. Partygoers gathered around the dance floor and began encouraging him to keep going, don’t stop. Kodie joined in: “Go Mickey, go Mickey,” she said.
Go Kodie, go Kodie.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/milloy.