There were about 10 gun shots — crack, crack, crack — and then a woman’s scream.
“They shot my baby. They shot my baby.”
A man came running outside, clutching an infant in his arms. Tears slicked his cheeks, a witness told the Los Angeles Times.
The baby girl was named Autumn Johnson, according to NBC Los Angeles, and she later died at the hospital from a gunshot wound to her head. She was just a week past her first birthday.
“It looks like somebody drove up and were shooting into the house at somebody else and the baby caught a stray round,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lt. John Corina told KTLA of the Tuesday night shooting in Compton, Calif. In a statement released early Wednesday, the sheriff’s department said that the shooting appears to be gang-related.
Shootings are still too familiar in this city south of downtown Los Angeles, which has tried to move past its reputation as a byword for bloodshed. Fourteen people were shot and killed there in the past 12 months, according to a Los Angeles Times database — that’s roughly one death for every 7,000 people, more than twice the rate for Los Angeles County at large.
But the killing of a 1-year-old girl, who officials say was lying in her crib when a bullet struck her in the face, was a rare kind of horror.
“It’s sad to see that happen to an innocent kid,” said a high-school-age girl who spoke to KTLA but did not give her name.
“How do you feel, living so close?” the reporter asked.
Corrina told KABC that witnesses saw gunmen pull up in a car and start firing toward the house about 7 p.m. Bullets passed through the door of the garage, where the Johnson family lives, and struck 1-year-old Autumn. Her father was unhurt, family members said.
When deputies arrived, they rushed the baby girl to St. Francis Medical Center in a patrol car. She succumbed to her injuries not long after she arrived.
“It’s traumatic for everybody responding,” Corina told the Los Angeles Times.
Investigators said they are looking for two black male attackers in a dark-colored, four-door sedan last seen driving south on Holly Street, where the shooting took place.
It’s not clear who the gunmen were targeting when they fired. The sheriff’s department investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Compton in 2016 is not the same city of N.W.A. lyrics and public imagination. It’s not the same place it was 25 or 30 years ago, menaced by gang violence and drive-by shootings. The demographics have shifted, large retailers have moved in, unemployment has sunk, and optimism is on the rise. The 14 shooting deaths in the past 12 months are something of a historic low, compared with the 86 homicides the city recorded in 1989, according to NPR.
“When I think about Compton, I think about redemption,” Aja Brown, the city’s 33-year-old mayor, told NPR in August.
Even so, young children still find themselves the innocent victims of persisting violence.
In 2010, fourth-grader Erica Miranda was shot in the back, hip and knee while playing basketball outside her home. The shooting was thought to be gang-related, according to the Los Angeles Times, aimed at “making a statement” to a 17-year-old relative of Erica’s who was also shot.
“But our 10-year-old daughter haven’t done nothing to nobody,” her stepfather, Alonzo Lemmie, told the Times. “Why do you intentionally shoot kids?”
Erica survived, as did an 18-year-old who had been wounded in a drive-by shooting two weeks earlier.
But then there are stories like that of Angel Cortez, a 14-month-old who was shot while sleeping in his father’s arms in 2012. The assailant, 15-year-old Donald Dokins, was a “known gang member” according to KTLA, who mistook the boy’s father for a member of a rival gang. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison for the infant’s death.
That history weighed on the minds of those who crowded near the police tape line around Autumn Johnson’s home Tuesday night.
“Compton has a bad reputation, but things have been better around here,” Dan Martin, who has lived in Compton for all of his 53 years, told the Los Angeles Times. He had wandered over to see what was going on.
“It’s wrong whether it’s a baby or a man or anyone,” Martin said. “We’ve had enough bloodshed around here, don’t you think?”
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