Shortly after sunset on April 18, Nadia Garçon, a pretty 20-year-old with long, blond braids and almond-shaped eyes, stood in the hallway of her Little Haiti apartment building near the back door. She held her squirming two-year-old son, Joshua, on her left hip. About 20 feet away, two guys argued over a five-dollar bag of weed in the doorway of an apartment.
Nadia didn't like the sound of things. And as she inched slowly toward the door, the crack of gunshots rang out.
"Mommy, it hurt," Joshua suddenly cried as they hustled out the door.
"What hurt, Chunky?" Nadia replied, calling her toddler by his nickname. Then she looked down and saw blood on his little arms. It seeped through his black T-shirt. She ran across the street to the corner of NE Miami Avenue and 64th Terrace, where a group of people were sitting on a stoop. "My baby got shot!" she screamed.
Childhood isn't easy in Miami these days; Joshua was one of three babies involved in shootings in Miami-Dade County in one week in April. On April 15, just three days before Joshua was wounded and sent into a coma, 22-year-old Leandre Howard was ambushed in a gang feud at the corner of NW Second Avenue and 53rd Street while his girlfriend and their one-month-old infant sat in a car nearby. Howard was wounded by several bullets, but his girlfriend and the baby were unharmed. And on April 20, 37-year-old Orlando Mesa was gunned down in his North Miami driveway as he held his 20-month-old son. A few weeks later, Mesa's widow allegedly killed the man who murdered her husband.
It's all seemingly part of a surge in gang and drug violence that has rocked the county in recent months. Crime is on an upswing — with more than 90 people killed in the county and several dozen more in Miami alone — and black youths are often the victims. "[It's] more violent," says Miami-Dade Police Lt. Izzy McKee, who specializes in investigating gangs. "There's this mindset out there that is 'Get what you can, when you can, as fast as you can.'"
No incident better exemplifies the horrible human cost of this trend than the shooting of little Joshua and its aftermath. "I don't feel safe here," says Nadia. "I want to move someplace far away and safe — like Broward County."
Nadia is the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She was born in Miami and speaks Kreyol as fluently as English. She met Joshua's father, who is also named Joshua, when they were students at Booker T. Washington Senior High. He works as a shuttle bus driver at Jackson Memorial Hospital, but they live separately.
Along with her mother, Christian Val, Nadia and young Joshua moved to the Little Haiti apartment this past September. She had grown up in the area, and her mom thought it was a safe neighborhood. The new apartment was tiny — basically one large room — but cozy, and Nadia slept in the same bed as Joshua and her mother.
Before the shooting, Nadia's life was quiet. Her mother watched Joshua while she attended classes at Everest Institute, a trade school, to become a nursing technician. Otherwise, they mostly spent time at home. Joshua's dad came over after work, and they watched Tom and Jerry cartoons together. When Joshua turned two, Nadia bought him a fierce-looking green and black bicycle with training wheels. Because the boy was so big and strong, he was able to ride the bike like a kid twice his age. "Let's go outside," Joshua would beg his mom.
The night of the shooting, Nadia and Joshua walked to a nearby convenience store for some juice and returned to the apartment building's long, poorly lit corridor. The shooting happened just before 9 p.m. Afterward, several people in the neighborhood called police, and an ambulance took Joshua and Nadia to Jackson Memorial Hospital. It wasn't until then that Nadia realized she had also been grazed by a bullet. "My arm felt numb," she recalls. "But I was so worried about my baby that I didn't even pay attention."
While doctors at the trauma center worked to save Joshua's life — they immediately removed a kidney — three more people who had been shot during the argument arrived with minor bullet wounds, police reports say. Detectives descended on the apartment complex and discovered "several casings, blood stains, and bullet holes," according to official reports.
Five people were shot over a five-dollar bag of weed.
Nearly a week later, police arrested Ronell Campbell, a 24-year-old with gold teeth and dreadlocks from North Miami-Dade. He has a rap sheet: convictions for battery, false imprisonment, and selling cocaine. But for the incident that injured Nadia, Joshua, and the three others, police charged him only with being a felon in possession of a firearm. It's not clear why prosecutors leveled this charge, but perhaps it's because a conviction could garner him life in prison because of his criminal record.
Joshua remained in the hospital. The bullet had sliced through the smooth, brown skin of his torso, nicked his spinal cord, and exited the other side of his little body. For four days, he was in a coma.
The boy was also allergic to the anesthesia, and Nadia worried he would die. But his strength pulled him through, and Nadia, with her nursing assistant training, tried to make her son comfortable. "I never thought I would be taking care of my own baby in a hospital bed," she says.
One day, Nadia recalls, a nurse came in and pinched his right thigh, looking for feeling. Joshua began to sob, and so did Nadia. "Just to hear him cry was such a good feeling, 'cause I know it's something good," she says. "That's when I started having some hope." Still, Joshua wasn't exactly his old self, even as his health improved.
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For one thing, he ate less. Usually he craved Chicken McNuggets, but she had to coax him to eat his favorite meal. He was also less talkative, and Nadia noticed that when her baby slept, he had nightmares, occasionally saying, "Mommy, I'm hurt," while tossing and turning.
Finally, on May 29, almost a month and a half after the shooting, Joshua was released from the hospital. He was given a child-size wheelchair — which is still too large for the toddler — and a mountain of receipts, prescriptions, and paperwork, which Nadia keeps in a school folder that reads "Life Skills" on the front. She's still not sure how she's going to afford everything he needs, including some over-the-counter vitamins that Medicaid might not cover.
Joshua is still a big boy for his age, but Nadia says he's lost weight since the shooting. He has his mother's almond-shaped eyes and flashes strangers a small, shy smile. Only Nadia can get him to really laugh, especially when she tickles him. He is paralyzed from the waist down, though he has some feeling in his legs. Doctors say there's hope for him to walk with physical therapy, which he is getting weekly. But for now he's in a wheelchair.
The same day her son was released from the hospital, Nadia received some news from a neighbor: Campbell, the only person arrested in connection with the shooting, had posted bond and was released from jail pending trial. She wonders how that could happen. "If I could talk to the guy who shot my son, I would ask, Why? Why couldn't they come to an understanding with the guy they were arguing with? Why did they shoot over a petty issue? What if it was their child that was shot? My baby was in the hospital, suffering over nothing."