Mourners remember teen girl lost to gun violence in Baltimore, demand justice, sound alarm: ‘Little kids are carrying guns’

The future looked bright for Nykayla Strawder.

The high school sophomore had started attending a new school recently, improved her grades and was considering college. But first, she wanted to get her driver’s license, wear stylish outfits and give her younger sisters makeovers. She wanted to act like a teenager.


Three days after Nykayla, 15, was shot to death on the front porch of her family’s West Baltimore home Saturday evening, more than 100 people gathered Tuesday night to honor a loving daughter, sister and friend taken too soon. Many wore shirts printed with recent photos of Nykayla, smiling wide in a bright red prom dress, her hair and makeup flawless.

As the sun started setting over the Edmondson Village neighborhood, mourners lit candles and released balloons — red and purple, her favorite colors.


“She went from a kid who needed so much to a kid who just blossomed,” said her aunt and guardian, Donyette McCray. “I’m not questioning God, but … I was so excited to see what her future held.”

Nykayla Strawder’s image is seen on a T-shirt as a candle burns in her memory during the vigil for the 15-year-old killed on her front porch Saturday evening.

The 10th-grader was killed by a younger child whose family lives around the corner, according to her parents. Police said the shooting was accidental. They said the shooter, a 9-year-old boy, would not face charges because of his age.

At the vigil Tuesday, family members and Baltimore activists cried out for peace after a senseless act of gun violence that has taken on more symbolism than most, exposing the horrific consequences of myriad broken systems.

The mourners demanded better schools and youth programs, a juvenile justice system that actually rehabilitates struggling kids, and more services to keep children out of the streets and away from the devastating violence that permeates Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities.

“We are not gonna hide. We are not gonna be silent,” said Darryl Jarvis, Nykayla’s great-uncle, raising his voice in remarks to the mourners. “What we can begin to do is fight for justice. We want justice for Kayla.”

Other speakers called on adults to take a more active role in raising the children in their lives.

“Little kids are carrying guns. I don’t think anyone could even fathom what happened here,” said Darnyle Wharton of Baltimore Ceasefire 365. “This could be any one of your nieces and nephews.”


Other members of Baltimore Ceasefire, including co-founder Erricka Bridgeford, wound through the crowd burning sage, a ritual to cleanse the space and promote healing.

Daughter Aleah Strawder, 13, left, and cousin Barbara Robinson embrace grief-stricken mother Nykerah Strawder, who weeps at her home during the vigil for Nykayla Strawder, her 15-year-old daughter killed on her front porch Saturday evening.

Immediately after the shooting Saturday night, police said, the 9-year-old boy dropped the gun and ran away. Detectives later obtained the weapon, ran its serial number and learned it was registered to a female relative who works as an armed security guard. Officials declined to specify the exact relationship between her and the shooter.

Recent attempts to reach that family have been unsuccessful.

Baltimore Police said potential criminal charges are pending and that the department is working closely with local prosecutors on a charging decision. They declined to say what the potential charges are.

Maryland law says an adult cannot leave a loaded firearm “where the person knew or should have known that an unsupervised child would gain access” to the weapon. But the statute is relatively minor — a misdemeanor whose maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine.


Under a bill state lawmakers passed earlier this year, children under age 10 cannot be charged with a crime. Extensive research shows young children are unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions and the workings of the criminal justice system. While the 9-year-old boy theoretically could have been charged under the old law, experts said, questions likely would arise about whether he could be considered competent to stand trial.

Days after losing their daughter, Nykerah Strawder and Dontay Jones questioned how a child so young got ahold of a loaded firearm. They demanded charges against any adults responsible for keeping the gun secured. And alongside other relatives at the vigil Tuesday night, they reiterated those demands.

Jones said the boy had come to their house a couple of times before to play video games with Nykayla’s younger brother. But a few weeks ago, Jones said his son told him about getting into a fistfight with the boy during a basketball game. Then the 9-year-old showed up with a gun Saturday evening. Jones said he doesn’t know the child’s family well.

“Get this boy help so this doesn’t happen to someone else,” said Reynard Parks, Nykayla’s cousin.

Baltimore Ceasefire’s Wharton urged adults to ask children about their conflicts and potential beefs, he said, “because it should never end like that. … And I can’t expect a police officer to govern my house and my neighborhood if I’m not even watching.”

A crowd gathers for the vigil for Nykayla Strawder, a 15-year-old killed on her front porch Saturday evening.
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James Price, an uncle of Jones, questioned whether the inability to charge children under 10 could “send a message to the streets that you can take a little kid to kill someone and nothing happens.”

The crowd filled the front yard of the family home and spilled across Linnard Street. A memorial on the front porch included baby pictures of Nykayla along with some of her favorite things: a plaid leather handbag, a Nike sneaker and a New York Yankees baseball cap.

Jones said he recently bought the cap, which Nykayla grabbed off his head, proclaiming: “I’m your twin.”

Relatives said she loved fashion and talked about becoming a designer someday.

Becca Malaney, 15, said she became friends with Nykayla in sixth grade at Baltimore Design School, which focuses on the arts. She said they bonded over their mutual love of drawing, sometimes trading illustrations and sketches.

When Becca lost a family friend a couple of years ago, she said, Kayla stayed on the phone with her late into the night, talking about life in general, its ups and downs.


After losing touch during the pandemic, Becca recently reached out to her friend, hoping to catch up. Her message went unanswered.

Nykerah Strawder speaks about the loss of her child, Nykayla Strawder, the 15-year-old killed on her front porch Saturday evening.