Nine-year-old Jermell Richardson walked to church Sunday morning.
It was the first time, except for doctors' appointments, that Jermell left her house in Waverly since Oct. 4, when she was shot in the right leg in broad daylight on her family's porch.
"It was excellent," Jermell said after the service at Mount Oliver Missionary Baptist Church, 513 E. 36th St., around the corner from her house in the 3500 block of Old York Road. "I might go outside tomorrow, too."
Jermell was an innocent bystander, caught in the crossfire when a gunman in a car opened fire on four other people in the block. The shooter is still at large. The alleged getaway driver, Michael Daye, 26, was arrested on Oct. 14. Daye faces attempted murder, assault, weapons and other charges in the shooting, police said.
Jermell is recovering from a bullet that fractured her femur bone, and is starting to put some weight on her leg, although she walked to church using a walker and hopped to the bathroom and back during the service. Jermell is receiving medical treatment at the University of Maryland Medical Center and physical therapy at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
But emotionally, Jermell's recovery has been slower. She is deeply traumatized by the shooting, and until Sunday was afraid even to step out on her porch, according to her mother, Doresia Thomas, and Northern District Police Capt. Richard Gibson, who has befriended her since the shooting. The two have since formed a close bond, and Gibson convinced Jermell to walk to church with him and his family.
"She said she'll go outside if I protect her," Gibson explained earlier last week. "It's only 100 yards, but that's a long 100 yards."
Compounding Jermell's recovery is that she has suffered from seizures since she was 3, and sees a heart doctor, Thomas said.
Thomas, who lives with three of her four children and her sister, Mary, in Section 8 housing, said the shooting so unnerved Jermell that the girl said she wanted two kinds of houses for Christmas, a dollhouse and a new house.
"She wants to move," Thomas said, adding that her daughter sleeps fitfully. "She doesn't want to stay here."
Neither does Thomas, who has lived there since 2009. She said she is looking into moving to Towson or Dundalk.
"It got me shook up," Thomas said. "I don't like sitting on my porch, either. I'm going through so much. I'm trying to be happy and get back like I used to be, but I'm really tired and I want to get to sleep. Every night, I cry a lot. I'm just stressed."
For now, the family is hanging on, struggling not only psychologically, but financially. Thomas, 45, a self-employed housekeeper, said she hasn't been able to work since the shooting, because she's too busy taking care of Jermell, and money is being raised to help her pay utility bills. She said she owes about $1,000 alone to Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., and that her kitchen table is falling apart and propped up for show.
Thomas said her oldest daughter, M'onte Chilsom, 22, works at a Chipotle restaurant in White Marsh.
"She's our income."
Community and church leaders and the staff of Waverly Elementary/Middle School, where Jermell is a fourth-grader, have been helping the family out, both with donations of food and money, and with notes and videos of encouragement. The church's pastor, Bishop Dr. Dwight D. Dodd Sr., has been active, as have Patricia Taylor, president of the Waverly Improvement Association, Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Regina Boyce, director of community services for Strong City Baltimore, formerly called the Greater Homewood Community Corp., a nonprofit organization based in Charles Village.
Boyce said she is helping as a resident, not on behalf of Strong City Baltimore.
Taylor said the community association has dipped into its emergency fund to help the family, and that at least one other church in the area, New Waverly United Methodist Church, has also helped.
Thomas showed a note that she said Clarke put in the family's mailbox — along with a $100 bill — saying in part that Jermell was "the most innocent of victims," and that, "All of Baltimore prays for you to stay strong and for Jermell's complete recovery."
Thomas said Jermell's school is sending homework to her. She also showed a video on her cellphone of Jermell's classmates telling her how much they miss her. Principal Amanda Rice could not be reached for comment.
And although Jermell has been afraid to leave the house, "She doesn't want to be home," her mother said. "She wants to be in school."
The shooting happened in the same area where 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott was killed by a stray bullet while playing outside on Aug. 1, 2014.
"Here we go again," Gibson thought when he heard about the shooting of Jermell.
"Nobody expects children to be shot in broad daylight," said Boyce, who lives nearby and hosted a community meeting at her house, about two weeks after Jermell was shot, to talk about how to support the family and how to stop crime in the community.
Boyce said she has been texting Thomas weekly to tell her that "whatever she needs, let me know."
"There's always a lot of love in a situation like that," said Dodd, who is so well-known in the community that the street where the church is located is named for him. Dodd said he didn't know the family before the shooting because they don't go to his church. But he said he reached out to them immediately because, "As I try to evangelize the community, I try to get them to understand that we're part of the community."
No one has been more active than Gibson, who is second in command at the Northern District and was heavily involved in reaching out to North Baltimore residents and merchants along York Road and Greenmount Avenue after the Baltimore riots.
"Obviously, the case was in my district," Gibson said, explaining why he reched out to Jermell and her family. But he said it's more than that.
"I have daughters myself," he said. "And it hit close to home with the McKenzie Elliott case."
Now, Gibson visits Jermell two or three times a week, sometimes reading to her or talking about the shooting.
"She always draws me pictures," he said.
Finally, he told Jermell, "If you agree to go outside with me, we'll go to church together."
Last week, she told him, "Don't forget, we're going to church Sunday."
Shortly after 11 a.m., for the first time in six weeks, Jermell, wearing a black and white dotted dress and matching bow in her hair, limped out of her house and onto the dreaded porch, where Gibson, dressed in his police uniform and cap, was waiting with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Hannah, 16. Gibson carried Jermell down the porch steps and she walked with him and her family members to the church, where a throng of well-wishers was waiting for her.
Jermell seemed surprised by all the attention. "They want to see you," Gibson told her.
"They don't want to see me," Jermell said, smiling.
She sat in the second pew on the left, hugging people, then clapped along and waved a fan as the choir sang gospel songs. Hannah Gibson put an arm around her and they chatted animatedly. Capt. Gibson watched them fondly and said he wants to start a college fund for Jermell.
Dodd in his sermon singled out Jermell and Gibson by name, calling Jermell "a living witness of how good God is," and praising Gibson for his service to the community as a police captain.
"It's hard to walk through the city you love and see the hell that's all over the place," Dodd told about 40 people at the service.
He told Jermell, "I know it's hard for you to get back out on the street," but added, "God has your back. Just because bad things happen in your life doesn't mean that's the end of your story. Your story is just starting to get written."
Gibson said he and Jermell would be having dinner together on her porch the next night. "She's not afraid to go outside anymore," he said.
Jermell also made a point of mentioning the dinner to a reporter.
"You can come too," she said.
To help Jermell and her family with donations of money and food, call Bishop Dodd at 443-889-6563, Capt. Gibson at 410-396-2455, Patricia Taylor of the Waverly Improvement Association at 410-591-3503, Boyce at 443-806-6996 or the family at 443-965-7817.