'Sweet little thing': Shooting of 5-year-old in West Baltimore overwhelms already grieving family

Amy Hayes had just celebrated her fifth birthday Thursday at her great-grandmother’s West Baltimore house with five candle-lit cupcakes and a new baby doll and stroller she’d received from a cousin.

Four days later, the child was caught in the crossfire of a shooting in the 1000 block of McKean Avenue, within view of the home, after heading to the corner store to buy a juice, her great-grandmother said.

Vivian Nealy watched from her window as her great-granddaughter fell and neighbors rushed her into a car to take her to the hospital about 6:20 p.m. Monday.

Her new baby doll lay in the street.

“I didn’t know she was shot,” said Nealy, 62, whom the girl calls “Gamma Bibby.” “I thought she had tripped over her shoestrings because she always has her strings untied.”

“I said ‘Get up, Amy!’ ” Nealy said. “She said ‘Gamma, I can’t get up.’ ”

The girl, who had been shot in the groin, was in stable condition, undergoing surgery Tuesday, family members said.

By a stunning and tragic coincidence, Amy is the younger half-sister of Taylor Hayes, a 7-year-old girl who was fatally shot in July while riding in the back seat of a car in Southwest Baltimore. Both girls have the same father. Keon Gray, 29, has been charged with murder in her death and is awaiting trial.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she visited Amy in the hospital Monday night and was stunned to learn of her relationship with Taylor.

“I was shocked,” Pugh said. “Absolutely shocked. No child should have to live through this. No child should have to experience this.”

West Baltimore accounts for a significant portion of the city’s crime. So far this year, 38 of the city’s 278 homicides — around 14 percent — have been reported in the 21217 ZIP code, which encompasses Sandtown-Winchester.

Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle offered few new details Tuesday on the shooting.

“We don’t have any solid leads at this point,” he said at a news conference at police headquarters.

Tuggle said the girl was struck during a shootout but police do not know of a motive, nor do they have any possible suspects. However, he said, detectives are confident the little girl was not the target of the shooting.

The fact that she is the younger sister of Taylor Hayes is an unfortunate coincidence for that family to endure, he said.

“That’s a real tragedy, but it’s more emblematic of the issues with respect to some of our communities in terms of the level of violence,” Tuggle said. “We know where this little girl was shot wasn’t near where Taylor was shot. It just goes to show you that some individuals don’t care who gets hurt. It’s got to stop.”

Amy, whom Nealy described as a “sweet little thing” who loves snacking on sunflower seeds, had been eating them with her great-grandmother at the home just before the shooting. The salty seeds made her thirsty, Nealy said; she told “Gamma Bibby” she was going to the store for a juice.

Her great-grandmother said water would be better for her, but Amy wanted juice.

Nealy, who takes oxygen through a tube for a chronic inflammatory lung disease, said she doesn’t leave the house much. But her window overlooks the street, and she could see Amy for about half a block, she said.

“Go ahead, and hurry back,” Nealy recalled saying, with tears running down her face.

Police said Amy was caught in the crossfire between people in an unidentified vehicle and on foot.

Tyshina Allen, a cousin, said Amy is a “sweet kid.”

“All she wants to do is play, eat candy, sunflower seeds, be a regular kid,” Allen said.

Having already lost Taylor this year, Amy’s family is “so overwhelmed,” she said.

“When you’re trying to deal with one thing, another comes up,” Allen said. “It’s just death all around us. It’s crazy. We can’t even grieve for Taylor” in peace.

Taylor's mother, Shanika Robinson, shared her grief in a post on Facebook.

"Hey Amy Baby, Taylor Got You, You Most Definitely Going Be Good," she wrote Monday night. " This Can’t Be Life , My Babies Sister #PrayForAmy"

In a follow-up post, she responded to critics wondering why the 5-year-old was allowed outside at night.

“It Should Not Be Why Is Kids Outside,” she wrote Tuesday. “Our Kids Should Have The Right To Play Without The Fear Of Being HIT With A Random Bullet.”

A man spray-painted Amy's name, "No Shoot Zone" and red-and-green hearts on the sidewalk near the McKean Avenue shooting scene Tuesday.

Renold Allen, a neighbor on Mosher Street who is not related to Tyshina, said Amy often comes over to his house to watch “Frozen” and other Disney movies or play on the back porch with his 6-year-old granddaughter, Ryan Morton.

“She’s a sweet little girl, cute as a button, and smarter than me and you,” said the 67-year-old retired furniture refinisher. “She don’t even go to school yet and she can count her change already.”

“They make this house a mess,” he added fondly.

Allen’s daughter took Amy to the hospital after the shooting, which he said followed gunfire a few hours earlier Monday, about 3:30 p.m. He pointed out bullet holes in his window and a dining room wall, and produced a police report for the damaged property.

“There was a shootout earlier yesterday,” he said. “They shot my windows out.”

He blames the violence on drug dealers who plague the neighborhood. When he left his light on to keep them from dealing on his front stoop, he said, they stole the bulb.

The dealers, he said, walk down the street “like a parade” selling drugs.

“It’s like you’re going to see the Ravens,” Allen said.

Police do nothing about the dealing, he said, and the city has ignored his repeated calls to tow away a broken-down, abandoned white pickup truck where he says the dealers stash their product or sit when it rains.

Officers have told him they’ve tried, but prosecutors and judges don’t keep the dealers locked up.

“You can’t stop 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids from selling drugs out here?” he said.

Tuggle said the area where the shooting occurred is known to have drug dealing and violence, and needs the community’s help.

“We need to get people away from thinking about guns as a first resort to anger. We also need to enlist the community to be actively engaged,” he said. “Police resources are limited, but the community can really be a force-multiplier, not just to discourage this activity going forward but to also encourage folks to come forward to talk about things like this.

“If nobody says anything about it, believe me, it’s going to happen again.”

Joel Fitzgerald, the candidate chosen by Pugh to serve as the city’s next permanent police commissioner, has not been formally briefed on the shooting or other violence at this point, police spokesman Matt Jablow said.

Police and public officials held a crime walk through Sandtown-Winchester at 5:30 p.m.

Sprinkled in the crowd were friends of Hayes, like 10-year-old Ke’Asia Braxton, who came with her mother, Marquea Braxton. Though Braxton grew up in Sandtown, she now lives in Edmondson Village, near where Taylor Hayes was fatally shot in July.

News of Amy’s shooting, four months after the death of her older sister, shocked Braxton. “What’s the odds of something like that happening?” she said.

She was frustrated by people online who seemed to blame the girls’ parents for not protecting them.

“No parent, no nothing can stop a stray bullet,” she said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan, Jessica Anderson and Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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