A bullet had just gouged a wound into her back, but Tia Lipscomb was calm, with one question for the paramedic. "Will I still be able to walk?" the fifth-grader asked as the ambulance sped toward Sinai Hospital Wednesday afternoon. "Will I still be able to walk?"
She is a girl who plays with dolls and loves to dance. "She dances from the time she gets up," said her grandmother, Delores Watkins. Yesterday, after two nights in the hospital, surgery and a visit from the mayor, Tia walked back into her Bentalou Street home.
About 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, she'd been sitting with her grandmother on a bus-stop bench outside Walbrook Junction Shopping Center when a car sped past, spraying bullets without concern for the shoppers and the schoolchildren buying fries at McDonald's.
Her grandmother, frantically looking for cover, pushed Tia down and dragged the girl across Garrison Boulevard. She pounded on a stranger's door until the residents let her in.
Tia touched her back and found blood dripping. "Granny," she said, showing Mrs. Watkins her bloody palm, "I'm hit."
Thursday, after surgeons decided not to go after the bullet that remains in Tia's abdomen, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke came to her bedside.
Tia, 10, had some requests: "I asked him, 'Can you let the people who shoot people stay in jail?' " Tia recounted. "And I said, 'Get those people some help.' "
(The gunmen have not been found, and police have no suspects.)
She is a tiny girl with delicate features, large brown eyes and hair pulled back into an elegant braid. Yesterday morning, she was sitting up in bed, spooning strawberry ice cream straight from the pint carton -- an indulgence allowed a child who's just gotten out of the hospital.
A menagerie of stuffed animals was hanging on her wall, and get-well balloons floated in a corner.
From a nearby television came the ringing of gunfire, sound effects from a Hollywood gunfight. Tia seemed not to notice.
The family has recently moved to Bentalou Street, and her block, with porches and flower boxes, is fairly safe, said Dulcy Coffey, Tia's mother.
But a few blocks west, where Tia's grandmother lives, "You hear shooting all the time," Mrs. Watkins said. "You just have to wait for the shooting to stop" before you venture out.
Like so many other Baltimore children, Tia has had plenty of personal experience with guns. "One of my friends got shot in the arm once," she said nonchalantly.
Her 5-year-old brother, Richard Coffey, was scampering around the house charming visitors. Her mother was hovering, careful not to let her girl's face be photographed. Ms. Coffey had been at her office job at Legg Mason Wednesday afternoon when the call came. "I got hysterical," she said. "You think the worst."
She'd gone to Sinai and slept there for two nights with her daughter. She said she'd never before known a shooting victim.
But Tia's classmates at Mildred Monroe Elementary School at Guilford Avenue and Federal Street have much more experience with violence. When a crisis counseling team arrived yesterday in the school's tidy corridors, the fifth-graders all had stories to tell.
"How many of you know someone who's been shot?" asked Anna Dotson, from the Office of Guidance Services.
Of the more than 30 students in the fifth-grade, all but two or three raised their hands.
"How many of you know someone who's been killed in a shooting?" Ms. Dotson asked. Only a few children lowered their hands.
Janet Gregor, the fifth-grade teacher, said Tia is "bright, energetic, outgoing."
"Sincere," added Anne Roberts, the principal. "That's our Tia."
This year, she'd been chosen to be a peer mediator, trained in helping classmates settle disputes without anger and violence. Such programs are considered important in teaching children how to find peaceful ways out of arguments.
"This is a safe place for them," Ms. Gregor said of her pupils. "This school is a very safe place." The pupils are earnest, courteous and obedient. But guns are a hallmark of their lives.
"At Halloween, we wrote a lot of scary stories," Ms. Gregor said. "And most of them dealt with someone being shot. But in the stories, someone is shot and always comes back."
No pupil has ever been a victim, Mrs. Roberts said. "They took this very personally, because it was one of them."
Shaina Brown, 10, said Tia is the fourth person she knows who's been hit by gunfire. "My uncle. He's dead. My brother was shot. He's 20. He was walking down the street and got shot in the leg. My cousin. He's around 16. He got shot last year."
Ms. Gregor had let the pupils spend the day making get-well cards for Tia. "We took it easy today, because they really needed time to talk," Ms. Gregor said.
"If that bus had just come a little sooner. . . .," one card to Tia read.
Back home, Mrs. Watkins said she still intends to shop and visit and live her life without giving in to the fear of gunmen.
But Dulcy Coffey said the shooting has changed her life."I'm going to keep my kids inside more. And now, when I'm at work, it's going to always have me thinking, 'Are my kids OK?' "