Dazed family and friends strolled somberly into the pale yellow Miami Gardens home, pockmarked with bullet holes.
They wanted to see where 12-year-old Tequila Forshee met her death hours before.
The senseless killing of a child eager to start school on Monday left them shell-shocked, in a city that has seen more than its share of senseless murders — at least six killings so far this year, including the recent execution-style killing of a retired pastor and her grandson.
Tequila’s grandmother, Tawanda Brown, had started braiding the little girl’s hair at her beauty salon, Ms. T Worldwide Beauty Salon, inside the Carol City Flea Market on Wednesday. When the shop closed at 7 p.m., Brown and her granddaughter left to finish up at home, said hairdresser Samara Thompson, who worked with Brown.
Tequila, with a giant smile and a playful nature, had been sitting on a living room floor as Brown tended to her tresses.
Around 11 p.m., Brown told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 that she heard her dogs barking, looked out the window and saw several teenagers on bicycles on the street. Moments later, a hail of bullets tore through the front of the house, just missing several other children who were also there.
“Bullets just started storming in and I thought Tequila had just laid over to get out of the way,” Brown told CBS4. One bullet struck Brown in the leg; she was later treated.
But her beautiful granddaughter — the one who loved puzzles and drawings — lay dead on the floor, bleeding from a bullet to her head. Her 14-year-old sister, Alize, was grazed by a bullet.
“She was a sweet little girl and so cute,” said Martha Frazier, Tequila’s great-grandmother and Brown’s mother. “All she was doing was getting ready for the first day of school.”
On Thursday night, friends and family members gathered outside Brown’s home for a candlelight vigil, many still inconsolable, holding hands and circling in prayer. They placed toys, flowers and dolls on the porch. Candles spelled out “TT” for Tequila. Her stuffed pink Hello Kitty bunny, which she slept with at night, was also placed there.
“There’s no such thing as a snitch,’’ said Denise Brown, no relation, who led a prayer. “Today, it was their family. Tomorrow it could be yours.’’
Despite what Brown said she saw outside her window, Miami Gardens police are cautious about describing the armed suspects who sprayed the house and disappeared. On Thursday, they went door-to-door in the neighborhood, passing out flyers, asking the public for help and hoping that witnesses would come forward.
They say they don’t know whether the suspects drove up or walked. They don’t know how many, what they looked like or what kind of gun, or guns, were used.
“If there was a car, if they were walking, we don’t have those answers at this moment,” said police spokesman Detective Mike Wright. “Right now, we’re still in the beginning stages of our investigation.”
Several family members told the media they thought the home was targeted and the shooting was possibly gang-related, but did not explain why. Tequila’s father, Glenn Forshee, spoke about “cliques” in the neighborhood, with groups feuding over territory, but could not say whether Wednesday night’s bloodshed was related.
“We are following all possible leads at this point.” Wright said. “We can’t confirm if it was or wasn’t gang-related.”
But gang violence has been a concern for Miami Gardens. Police have identified at least 10 active gangs, and say more than 100 gang members reside in the 10-year-old city of some 110,000 residents.
Last year, in an effort to suppress gang activity, Miami Gardens police launched G.R.E.A.T — Gang Resistance Education and Training — at local elementary and middle schools. The gang and violence prevention program targets fourth- through sixth-graders.
“Every time there seems to be a lull and things are going well, something like this happens, reminding us there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said the Rev. Rogery Adams, senior pastor at Mount Zion AME Church in Miami Gardens.
He said churches, police, schools and residents must continue to work together to find ways to make the community safer.
Adams leads an annual anti-violence march in the city, where victims who have been killed during the year are remembered. At the march in December this year, Tequila’s name will be added.
As the all-too-familiar scene of media vehicles piled up in front of Brown’s home, few family members wanted to speak publicly about their loved one. But one of Tequila’s aunts had this plea:
“My niece was just 12 years old and had a life to live,” said a grieving Tiffany Taylor. “Come forward, come forward,” she challenged the shooters. “It is what it is, you did it and the baby doesn’t deserve it. The baby had a whole life ahead of her.”
Tequila, her two sisters and a brother lived blocks away from her grandmother’s house, with her father and girlfriend.
Glenn Forshee’s voice quivered when he talked about his daughter, who he called his sweetheart. She was a good student in elementary school, getting A’s and B’s, he said. She would have entered seventh-grade at Carol City Middle School Monday.
She was “the heartbeat of our family,” he said. The tears began to flow when he recounted his daughter’s dreams of someday becoming a chef. “I still cannot understand,” he said, dabbing at his eyes.
Just days before, Tequila told him she wanted to try out for the cheerleading team this school year.
“Now, she will never have the chance,” he said.
Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.
Miami Herald news partner CBS4 contributed to this report.