Skymeter Roberts bowed her head and took a few moments to gather her thoughts. Surrounded by friends and family Tuesday, she was at Miami-Dade police headquarters facing a row of microphones.
Six days ago, her 17-year-old daughter was minding her own business on a park bench watching over three younger cousins, when a stray bullet struck her in the head and killed her.
As she was dying, the teen turned to her 10-year-old cousin and said she heard firecrackers. Then she collapsed.
“If you’re the person or people who have committed this senseless crime, I hope you can sleep at night, because we cannot,” said Roberts. “When I kept going back to the hospital, all I kept thinking was I wished whoever did this could see her. She’ll never graduate. She’ll never go to the prom. She’ll never get married. She will never have kids.”
Keimouria Gardner was a senior at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High who would have graduated in two months. She had an extended family that included four brothers and two sisters. Two other men were also shot that Wednesday night in the Soar Park parking lot only 20 or 30 yards from Gardner, one of them fatally.
Herchel Belizaire, a 22-year-old from Little Haiti died of his injuries last Friday, the same day the Gardner family lost Keimouria. Willie Williamson, 22, and also from Little Haiti is now home recovering from his wounds.
The March 19th shooting at the Little River area park in a small pocket of unincorporated Miami-Dade at Northwest 83rd Street and North Miami Court and just west of El Portal, has perplexed detectives from the start. At first, they received so many conflicting accounts they weren’t certain if Williamson and Belizaire were victims, or shooters.
They still don’t know who committed the crimes, or why, and what type of car or cars the shooter or shooters fled in.
Police believe Keimouria Gardner was seated on a bench on the south side of the park, watching her three cousins between the ages of three and 10 enjoying the playground. They also believe Belizaire and Williamson were in the parking lot about 20 yards north of Gardner, when shots rang out.
Roberts said one of her daughter’s cousins told family members she got worried when she heard arguing coming from the direction of the parking lot, and asked Keimouria if they could leave. But it was too late, within seconds bullets were flying.
Initially, police weren’t certain if Williamson and Belizaire were in their cars when the shooting occurred, or standing next to them. Though Williamson is now home recovering, they say they have little new information to release. The night of the shootings, a pair of sneakers remained in the parking lot between bullet casings, and a man in a white tank top and blue jeans was handcuffed and hauled away by police for questioning.
Detectives are now even looking into the possibility of the crime being a case of mistaken identity. Witnessess have been hard to come by. Miami-Dade police surveyed a damaged red Camaro they found a block east of the crime scene, and scoured the residential neighborhood with fliers asking residents for help.
The fliers only had a picture of Gardner on them, and the numbers for Crime Stoppers and the department’s homicide unit.
Police won’t say what type of bullets or weapons were used, but suspect at least two shooters because two types of bullet casings were found at the scene. Witnesses say between two and four cars fled the scene after the shooting.
Residents heard the shots, but haven’t been able to identify the shooters.
Detective David Gracia said that while Keimouria Gardner was visiting a family friend in the neighborhood, she decided to take her cousins to play in Soar Park. The Gardner family lives in Miami Gardens, about eight miles north of the neighborhood. Gracia said Williamson, the lone survivor of the shooting, is a former employee at the park and is cooperating with police.
Up until recently Soar Park had been underutilized and fallen into decay. Three young men who stopped by there on the night of the shooting said they avoid playing basketball there because it’s too dangerous. Police have reviewed calls there in recent years and determined most were for minor offenses like stolen bikes or fights.
On Monday, District County Commissioner Jean Monestime, asked for the public’s help in solving the crime. He said he’s worked hard to renovate the park, staff it with an outreach center, and get activities going there.
The seneseless shooting has slowly galvanized the community.
David Jenkins, father of Sherdavia Jenkins, a 9-year-old gunned down on the front steps of her Liberty City home as she played with a friend seven years ago, showed up at the park last week to support the family.
The Rev. Jerome Starling, who lost 5-year-old niece Rickia Isaac to a stray bullet in 1997, led a gathering at Liberty City’s Sherdavia Jenkins Park on Saturday to denounce the violence.
Wednesday, along with friends and Gardner family members, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his police director J.D. Patterson attended the press conference. As did Miami-Dade School Board Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Members of the Williamson and Belizaire families didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting. Keimouria Gardner’s father Keiyatta Gardner was there, but chose not to speak and sat in the audience watching intently.
Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers, which offers up to $3,000 for information leading to convictions, has upped its reward to $10,000 with the help of the Police Benevolent Association. And Crime Stoppers Executive Director Richard Masten has talked to detectives about making a video that would recreate the crime.
Keimouria Gardner’s family had been mostly quiet since last week’s shooting, requesting privacy, the dead teen’s step mother Regina Gardner only occasionally speaking to the media.
Tuesday she was defiant, taking to the microphone only after Keimouria’s mother broke down, or couldn’t find the proper words.
“She was taken for no reason. We as a people need to take our streets back. We all need to take a stand against this violence,” Regina Gardner said. “I’m angry, I’m very angry. If we continue to turn our cheek to senseless crimes in our own community, we will be held hostage.”
Still, the family took solace in Keimouria’s passing, noting she saved the lives of six others through organ donations.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Roberts told herself from the makeshift dais. “Because my baby is still helping others.”
Patterson, the police director, said his department won’t rest until the case is closed. His boss, Mayor Gimenez, said a bullet took a life much too early.
“There are people in the community who know exactly who did this, and we need their help,” said the mayor.
And public schools Superintendent Carvalho said childhood innocence in Miami-Dade is being lost one bullet at a time.
“Two things kill children in our society, bullets and silence,” said Carvahlo. “Certainly, events like this break our spirits, and it must end.”