On Martaevious Santiago’s 17th birthday, he shot his 13-year-old sister in the back of the head.
She had just hugged him in the kitchen of the family’s Florida City home, police said. As they separated and Tedra King walked away, Martaevious pointed a loaded semi-automatic handgun at her. Then he pulled the trigger and killed her.
Martaevious told police it was an accident.
The shooting happened Tuesday night inside a modest Florida City subdivision called Washington Park. Outside the home on Wednesday, shocked family members — some on the way to identify the young girl’s body at the morgue — demanded privacy.
“Everybody that knows a word of prayer, please pray for the Bess family,” close family friend Benita Collier asked.
Martaevious, whose life has been marred by gun violence and who was featured as part of a series of stories earlier this year on youth surviving gun violence by Miami Herald news partner WLRN, called police after the shooting and said he had accidentally shot his sister.
Police charged him with aggravated manslaughter of a child and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony. The charge does not assume intent, police said.
Martaevious said he got the gun, a semi-automatic handgun, from a 14-year-old friend whom police did not name, but who was also arrested for an unrelated outstanding warrant. It was unclear Wednesday exactly who was in the home just after 8 p.m. when Tedra was shot other than Martaevious and his friend.
His step-father, Vernon Williams, said he was at home during the shooting and so was Tedra’s mother Lakesha Bess, who held her daughter after she was shot. Williams told WPLG Channel 10 that Martaevious said he had made a terrible mistake.
‘“I’m sorry, it was an accident,’” Williams said Martaevious told him. “’I’m sorry, Dad.’”
The WLRN story, which ran in February, explained how a week before last Christmas, Martaevious was in a car in front of his home when gunfire broke out. He was shot in the leg. His friend was shot in the head and survived. Earlier last year, Martaevious’s younger brother Martwan Santiago, 15, was shot four times while playing outside his apartment.
The bullet that hit Martwan’s spine left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“I never knew how he was feeling until I got shot. Now, I feel the pain,” Martaevious told WLRN in February. “Hang around the wrong crowd of people, this is what happens.”
Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez, whose department has dealt with a series of juvenile shooting deaths over the past few years, said he was saddened that another child was lost to gunfire.
“This is what happens when guns get into the hands of youth,” he said.
Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Albert Carvalho, who has been outspoken about the pace of youth violence in South Florida, took to Twitter yet again to voice his outrage.
“Criminally or accidentally, the carnage continues. A 13-year old middle schooler is latest victim of heartbreaking, reckless gun violence,” the superintendent said.
Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace said he visited with the family Tuesday night. He said police believe the gun that ended Tedra’s life was obtained in an earlier burglary. The mayor said he understands people get guns for protection, but at least in Florida City, far too often the weapons only cause unintended tragedy.
“I find this to be far more prevalent than people protecting their castles,” the mayor said.
The shooting rekindled memories of a tragic incident a dozen years ago that took the life of a 3-year-old girl in nearby Homestead nicknamed Shae Shae. The 5-year-old brother of Shae Shae, whose real name was Literica Dyshae Treniece Davis, found a loaded gun in a toy box and fired it at his sister.
She died instantly. After the shooting, Shae Shae’s brother asked his mother: “Can she be fixed?”
With family keeping tight-lipped Tuesday, little information about Tedra was available. The little girl known as Rosie to many family members and friends attended Homestead Middle School, and was part of an extended family of nine brothers and sisters.
A woman who shares Tedra’s last name, Tamera King Cameron, posted a couple of pictures of Tedra on Facebook. In one picture she’s wearing a blue shirt while being hugged from behind.
“RIP Tedra King memories is all we have,” she wrote on the post. In another picture Tedra is seen seated at a restaurant holding a wad of money close to her face.
Florida City Neighbor Abbie Young said she heard gunfire Tuesday night, then “running, crying and hollering.” She said Tedra, who lived in the home next door, was always unfailingly polite to her and addressed her formally.
“She was always Miss this, Miss that,” Young said. “She never disrespected me.”
The day she was killed, Tedra and a group of her seventh-grade friends were discussing what they would wear for the middle school prom — still more than a year away. Her 12-year-old friend Josie Joseph said Tedra knew she wanted a purple dress.
Josie, a boy who lives down the street, said he heard the gunshot. The pre-teen said he has known Tedra since elementary school and they loved rapper Kodak Black and telling jokes.
“Her brother was just playing. He wasn’t supposed to be playing like that,” Josie said. “I was supposed to have class with her today. Now I can’t talk to her anymore.”
Miami Herald staff writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.