The ice cream truck was back. It didn’t need to blare a jingle. Every evening, it parks beneath a streetlight in the Clay Terrace public housing complex in Northeast Washington. Every evening, it is stocked with fudgesicles and froyo and snow cones, the ones that can turn kids’ tongues electric blue. That is what summer nights are for, and so the truck always comes, even on this night, less than 24 hours after a 10-year-old was shot and killed on her way to buy ice cream.
Makiyah Wilson loved Lick-A-Color popsicles. She had spent Monday at the pool with her older sister. About 8 p.m., as she stepped into the crowded courtyard outside her house, a car pulled up. Four masked men jumped out and opened fire, spraying bullets in all directions.
Neighbors say Makiyah was hit in the chest, her ice cream money still in her hand. She was the third child shot in the District this month.
In a city where homicides are up 47 percent this year, in an aging brick housing complex home to 172 kids — now 171 — the fear that is always in the back of parents’ minds has been pushed to the very front. Here, their children know how to jump rope, how to ride bikes, how to play freeze tag, how to catch lightning bugs and how to duck and run at the sound of gunfire. To allow their kids to be outside, to give them all that summer nights are for, means putting them at risk.
The shooting that killed Makiyah and wounded four others ended in hours of sirens and sobbing, and then came an eerie silence. By the time the sun began to set the next day, the crime-scene tape was gone. Police cruisers circled. But the playground remained empty.
The ice cream truck driver settled in for what he knew would be a slow evening. He watched a girl jog from her front door to his window. She asked for an ice cream sandwich.
“I have to hurry up,” she said. “I don’t want to be outside.”
Behind the truck, a mother was sitting at a picnic table without her child. All day, Stacy Bryant’s 8-year-old daughter, Arianna, had been saying how scared she was, even inside their house. She thought it might help to send Arianna to her father’s for the night.
Makiyah had been at Arianna’s birthday party a few weeks earlier. Arianna was outside riding a bike when the shooting began. She scampered into a neighbor’s house while Bryant sprinted outside barefoot, desperate to find her.
Now Stacy and her sister Tracy Bryant were watching police cars drive by, trying to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t let Arianna play outdoors any more.
“She’s a summer baby,” Stacy said. “Always, it’s ‘Mom, can I go outside, can I go outside?’ ”
Stacy, who is 27, never imagined herself raising her daughter here, in the same house where she grew up. Her mother was always the nervous type, wanting Stacy and Tracy to be inside, where she knew they were safe. But Stacy, who works as a cashier, has tried to show Arianna a world beyond Clay Terrace. She walks her to the park and the pool. She signed her up for a cheerleading team in Maryland. She wants her to go to college.
Whenever Arianna stays in the house, it seems like the girl is glued to a TV or a tablet or a phone.
“Okay, I don’t want to just keep her inside,” Stacy told her sister, shooing away a mosquito.
“But,” Tracy said, “I’m afraid for her to be outside.”
“The police are going to be around for a little while,” Stacy reasoned. “If I’m outside with her, well, I know I can’t protect her but ... ”
She trailed off. She didn’t have the answer. Neither did anyone else in the neighborhood.
In a townhouse near the playground, Deanna Green’s strict household was about to get stricter. She knew what it was like to lose a child. One of hers had died in what she described as an accidental shooting when he was 18. More than 20 years later, she still couldn’t bring herself to really talk about it.
Every time Green goes to the store, all her grandchildren must come with her. Maybe that was a little much, but it was her way. This week she had heard the seven she helps raise crying over their friend. Her 8-year-old granddaughter was going around saying, “In Clay Terrace, everybody gets robbed and everybody gets shooted,” and that’s why Green declared a new way to keep them safe: No leaving the front yard, not even for the playground.
Across the street, Shawn Brown has raised her 11 children according to her mother’s rule: Be inside before dark. But it wasn’t dark when Makiyah was shot. So on this evening when her children went outside, she followed them. She hovered on her front step, as her kids rode in circles on the two Mongoose bikes they share. New rule: If the kids are outside, mom is outside.
She watched her daughter lower the bike seat for her little brother. She wondered again whether they should move. Somewhere safer. Somewhere they could afford. She is not sure such a place exists.
“You build a community, and then it’s like, you don’t want to leave,” Brown said. “But now I’m fed up.”
From her front step she could see the Bryant sisters at the picnic table, another question now on their minds. A neighbor had come outside to ask if Stacy was planning to take Arianna to Makiyah’s funeral.
“You should let her,” the woman said. “Unless you think it’s going to break her apart.”
Stacy looked at her sister. “Is it going to give her nightmares?” she asked.
A kid whizzed by on a bike. Stacy answered her own question.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know.”
By the next evening, her daughter had decided for herself.
Arianna was on the back step of their house, scrolling through photos on Instagram. Post after post commemorated Makiyah — Kiyah, as the other kids called her. Here was Kiyah outside on a scooter. Here was Kiyah outside in a tiara and tutu. Here was Kiyah on a poster that said, “Homicide victim: $25,000 reward.”
“She passed away. But I’m going to see her again,” Arianna said. “At the funeral. There’s going to be a lot of pictures of her.”
Stacy, who still wasn’t sure, stood watch in a spot where she could see her daughter, the street and the courtyard where Makiyah was shot. There was a group of people gathering at the spot, neighbors and what looked like reporters and news cameras.
“Look, they’re all going up there,” Arianna said.
“You’re not going up there,” Stacy told her.
“But I want to see her,” Arianna said.
Annoyed, she picked up her pogo stick and started bouncing on the asphalt.
“Count me,” she said. She was wearing her cheerleading uniform. Her coach was coming to pick her up for practice.
Almost every day, Arianna practices her routines on the playground, the one built for Clay Terrace when Stacy was 12 years old. It was a gift from a nonprofit called Make Kids Smile. Now the plastic slide is warped and cracked, and the swing set is missing swings. Arianna had taught herself to use its empty frame as monkey bars.
She made it past 30 jumps on the pogo stick, then bugged her mom again.
“I want to go up there,” she said.
“I don’t care what you want,” Stacy snapped.
There were more people in the courtyard now, all holding red star-shaped balloons.
“Come here,” she said to Arianna, her voice softer now. She untied and retied her ponytail, carefully smoothing back the wisps around her ears.
Another mother came by, pointing to the courtyard. “Are you guys going up?”
Stacy looked to the street. The cheerleading coach was running late.
She relented. “Okay,” she said, and started toward the crowd. Arianna took off running. Deep in the mass of people and red balloons, Makiyah’s mother was talking to the news cameras.
Stacy stood off to the side. She scanned the street and the courtyard. There were children everywhere. The stickiness of the day was giving way to another balmy summer night. The ice cream truck would be here soon.
Makiyah’s mother started to sob. “Stop telling me it’s going to be okay,” she howled. “It is never going to be okay.”
Around her, people began shouting Makiyah’s name. All at once, they released the balloons.
Stacy saw the coach’s car come around the corner. She wove through all the people with their necks craned up, watching the floating red specks in the sky. She took Arianna by the hand and pulled her away from the crowd, toward the street and into the car that would take her out of the neighborhood, if only for a few hours.
Correction:An earlier version of this story stated that Stacy Bryant does not own a car. That reference has been removed.