Following up on the physical and emotional recovery of Kendall Brockenbrough, the now 4-year-old girl who was injured by a shotgun blast last year. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)
Lekya Missouri hoped the glittery new high-top "Twinkle Toes" shoes would entice her daughter to take the next step.
After four surgeries, thrice-weekly physical therapy sessions — and multiple pairs of the light-up shoes — 3-year-old Kendall Brockenbrough continues to struggle to walk since she was shot in the left leg last September in East Baltimore.
"Her right leg lights up, her left leg doesn't," Missouri said of the shoes. "We're trying to get lefty to light up."
Kendall and her father were walking to their car in the 700 block of East Preston Street after visiting her grandfather Sept. 24 when three gunmen opened fire, striking Kendall, her father and six others.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the shooting "a planned, premeditated act of retaliatory violence." Kendall was "an unintended target," he said.
Police said they received some tips from the public but none have led to an arrest.
Kendall, one of Baltimore's youngest shooting victims last year, suffered a broken left femur and a ruptured artery from the shotgun blast. Her father, Kandell Brockenbrough, a truck driver, was shot in the foot.
Kendall spent about a month at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she underwent the surgeries to remove bone fragments and scar tissue and to close wounds.
She was later transferred to Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, where her mother slept next to her bed each night until they came home Dec. 13.
While Missouri spent days and nights tending to Kendall, family, friends and neighbors pitched in at home.
Jennifer Mansour, who lives next door, was among the helpers who cooked lasagna and other dishes for Missouri's three older children.
"I have kids, too. If that happened to me, they would jump in a minute," Mansour said.
Though Kendall and her mom have returned home, challenges persist. Some routines are now altered.
Kendall, who was attending pre-kindergarten, was pulled out of school. Missouri said she does not know whether her daughter will be steady enough on her feet to attend this fall.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Missouri picks up Kendall from her grandmother's house and takes her to Mount Washington for physical therapy. To do this, Missouri must leave her job early at the Arc of Baltimore, where she works with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The shooting caused nerve damage that makes it difficult for Kendall to move her left knee, ankle and foot. The nerves will take time to regenerate.
"It could be months, it could be years," said Sonya Johnson-Branch, a physical therapist assistant who works with Kendall.
She recalled how it took weeks for Kendall to trust her, and how the little girl would flinch with pain whenever Johnson-Branch touched her leg.
She said an ankle brace has been ordered for Kendall to try to get her to flatten her left foot. They tried wedge shoes to fill the gap between her heel and the floor when Kendall tries to walk, but she refused to wear them.
Then Missouri tried the light-up shoes, which have sparked some success. At therapy sessions, Johnson-Branch counts how many times Kendall can light up her left shoe.
Her mother hoped the shoes would encourage Kendall to walk more at home. Kendall carefully inspected the new pair on a recent afternoon at the family's townhouse in Nottingham. But she shook her head no.
The once-energetic Kendall now gets winded walking from one end of the home to the other, her mother says. Outside, where neighborhood kids run from yard to yard in games of tag, or race down the sidewalk on scooters, Kendall watches from a wheelchair.
Often, Kendall calls her brother Kamal, 11, to carry her up the two flights of stairs to the bedroom she shares with her older sister, Amirah, 9.
She falls asleep next to her sister in the bottom bunk bed, clutching her leg. Each morning, it's swollen, her mother said. And it always hurts.
Kendall takes Motrin and Neurontin to treat the pain.
Missouri brings Kendall to a nearby indoor trampoline park to encourage her to move more. But it's tough for Kendall to watch the others run and jump. A recent video Missouri took on her phone shows Kendall rolling about the floor, reluctant to get up, and watching other kids in the distance.
When they come home, Kendall will look around the street to see if any other children are outside.
"If there's no one out, she will want me to carry her out," Missouri said. "But if there's people out, it's like 'No mommy, I want to walk, can you hold my hand?' It's like she has a point to prove by walking."
As Kendall works to regain her independence, she also struggles to understand what happened to her.
"She'll say, 'I have a boo boo,'" Missouri said. "She will whisper, 'I got shot,' like a secret."
It's not the first time violence has hit home for Missouri. In 2011, her husband and father to her three other children, Henry Mills, was fatally shot in the back of the head.
"I don't know why the things happened the way that they happened. I don't know why so much tragedy happened to me," she said. "I don't know why but it has to be for a greater reason."
Missouri says she also worries about whether the shooting will have a lasting psychological impact on her daughter. Research has shown that many children exposed to violence will develop PTSD, and others will develop health problems, including hypertension and diabetes.
She says she has considered taking Kendall to see a counselor, but worries that would be "too much" for her, with all of the other appointments associated with her physical recovery.
On Wednesday, Missouri pushed Kendall in a stroller through the hospital for her regular therapy appointment with Johnson-Branch.
In an exam room with toys, Kendall pulled herself up on a bed and quickly began digging through the pieces of a plastic tea set, while Johnson-Branch removed her light-up sneakers and gently massaged her feet and legs.
"At 3-years-old, you have to work with what she can tolerate," she said.
Johnson-Branch tells Kendall to climb down from the bed and get onto a Little Tikes plastic slide in the corner of the room. Climbing up the back forces her to put weight on both feet.
"No bunny hops," Johnson-Branch tells her, as she gently holds Kendall under her arms as she climbs up. But then her left foot hovers above a step, and she tries to walk back down.
Johnson-Branch and Missouri hand Kendall a baby doll.
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