Kaelin Washington isn’t your average 10-year-old.
Sketchbooks interest her more than cellphones. She adores animals, even bugs. She listens to grownups and doesn’t wander off in Baltimore.
So Saturday afternoon was not some case of the wrong place at the wrong time. When the stray bullet hit Kaelin, she was right where she told them: down the block buying Cheetos.
“Walking to the store was normal. I hold her close. I don’t let her do too much. I always keep an eye on her,” her mother, Jasmine Ramsey, said Monday at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
In a hospital room upstairs, the fourth grader had a punctured lung, fractured rib and emotional trauma from moments Saturday afternoon when a gun battle erupted in the streets of West Baltimore. A stray bullet hit her in the chest.
“She said, ‘Mommy, why would they shoot me?’” her mother said.
The bullet remains lodged in Kaelin’s back.
“She’s in pain, and I just wish I could take her pain,” Ramsey said. “I’m angry — I’m angry and I’m hurting.”
Kaelin became one of the latest child victims of Baltimore’s gun violence. While the bullet narrowly missed her major arteries, other children haven’t survived.
Seven-year-old Taylor Hayes was fatally shot in July 2018 during a gun battle in the streets of West Baltimore. She was riding in the backseat of a car. Four years earlier, 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott was playing on her porch when a stray bullet killed her.
Meanwhile, a 12-year-old boy was shot in his arm Monday evening and wounded in Northeast Baltimore and, Tuesday, a 17-year-old boy who was washing windows on an Interstate 83 exit ramp was shot multiple times by gunmen who jumped out of a car and then sped off.
In a statement late Tuesday night, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he was “deeply frustrated by the amount of young people who have been victims of violence in our city, especially in recent days.”
“We have seen a 10-year-old shot in the chest, a 12-year-old shot in the arm, and a 17-year-old shot in a public intersection,” Scott said. “There is nothing harder than talking to a parent whose child has become a victim of violence.”
Scott said he’s called a meeting with Baltimore police leadership “to identify special initiatives targeted at quelling the increase in shootings we have recently seen.”
Kaelin was nearly four blocks away when gunfire rang out Saturday between two groups of men warring in a block of liquor stores and carryouts at Reisterstown Road and North Fulton Avenue. Someone shot down the street toward where she was.
Police found two men wounded. Officers haven’t announced any arrests. Scott was visibly angry when he arrived at the crime scene.
“I don’t care what your silly, stupid little beef is. That 10-year-old baby had nothing to do with your beef,” he told news reporters.
Kaelin is Ramsey’s only child, so the mother and daughter are close. Ramsey works days at a blood lab, but on weekends the mother and daughter get their nails done or maybe pick crabs. Kaelin always eats her mom’s claws.
On Saturday, Ramsey dropped off Kaelin with the girl’s godmother to have her hair braided like many times before. Later Ramsey and her boyfriend were headed to the grocery store when the frantic phone call came: Kaelin’s at Hopkins; she’s been shot.
“I panicked. I was screaming. I kept telling my boyfriend: Get me to her!” Ramsey remembered.
The emergency room doctors sat Ramsey outside her daughter’s room. In the room, she saw doctors bent over and working on her girl. Where was she shot? What happened? Would she be OK.
Ramsey could hear her daughter crying. Then one doctor came out.
“She’s OK. She’s stable,” the doctor said. “Just calm down. Just breathe.”
The mother hasn’t left the hospital since Saturday. She sleeps on a cot in her daughter’s hospital room. By Monday, Kaelin was sitting upright in a chair. The doctors had bandaged the gunshot wound in her chest. They expect the child to make a full recovery, her mother said.
Still, Ramsey noticed something in her daughter. When the girl tries to talk about the shooting, she cries.
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“They messed my baby up for life,” Ramsey said.
Kaelin told her mother that she heard yelling down the street. She heard a pop and felt the sting of the bullet. Her eyelids felt heavy. She got sleepy.
Ramsey told her daughter again and again that she’s proud of her. Her godmother, DuEwa Johnson, said it, too.
“I’m just as amazed as anyone,” said Johnson, who called 911 that day. “She’s not your average 10-year-old.”
Indeed, she isn’t. When she was shot, Kaelin Washington had to walk through an empty alley to reach safety. She might have fallen; she might not have been found in time.
Instead, clutching her wounded chest and bleeding from her mouth, the little girl walked calmly, slowly back to her godmother’s house.
Baltimore Sun reporter Taylor DeVille contributed to this article.