Teen gathers strength with family, new friends Paralyzed in shooting, girl, 14, struggles to cope

July 18, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Tierra Knight, 14, read a poem she wrote about being paralyzed to four teary callers -- all Baltimore Ravens football players -- in her West Baltimore rowhouse living room yesterday.

Tierra penned "If I Be Strong" to console herself as she lay in her hospital bed after being shot by accident in her best friend's house two doors away from hers on West Mulberry Street on May 3.

"It helped her face what happened," explained her brother, 18-year-old Myron Knight, the first family member to reach his sister after she felt something like "an electric shot" ripple through her body as her legs folded and she fell to the floor. "She said she couldn't feel her legs."

The football players' visit to cheer her spirits and draw attention to her plight was arranged by Wenda Royster, a fitness guru frequently heard on WOLB radio. A few months before the shooting, Royster had volunteered to teach a weekly hip-hop aerobics class at Harlem Park Middle School, in which Tierra was a student.

Royster brought her friend Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson, who was accompanied by linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive back Benny Thompson and rookie wide receiver Patrick Johnson. They gingerly helped lift Tierra and her wheelchair down a flight of narrow stairs from her second-floor bedroom and invited her to the Ravens game of her choice.

"There are a lot of needs here," said Royster, looking around the living room as Tierra sat surrounded by her mother, Edna Carter, and several of her 12 brothers and sisters.

First is a wheelchair of her own. Carter expressed concern that her daughter would not be fully covered for her own wheelchair by state-funded medical assistance.

However, Donna Hall of Jai Medical Center, a managed care health program for state-funded benefits, said yesterday, "She is covered for that chair. She will never be without a wheelchair."

City Councilman Dr. Norman A. Handy Sr. of the 6th District said he would investigate whether the family could be relocated to another neighborhood in a house with wheelchair accessibility. For now, they live in a crumbling city-owned house with marble steps.

Raising 13 children, including twin baby girls, is Carter's life. "Things are already difficult," she said. But the family is rallying round Tierra, who said she plans to pursue her goal of owning a cosmetology business.

"If she wants to go 20 times up and down [the stairs], I'll be there. That chair can't stop her," said another brother, Antwane Knight, 17. "She can still braid my hair."

Tierra, described by neighbors as a "nice child," said that on the day of the shooting she never saw the loaded handgun on a dresser. It went off behind her. Her friend set it off accidentally, changing her life in a split second. No charges were filed.

"It takes a strong black girl to have a positive mind," said nTC Jackson. "You can see how strong she is in her writing."

Tierra's poem reads, in part, "If I be strong, I will see how much fun getting well can be/ If I think big and reach for my dreams, it won't be as bad as it really seems."

She keeps it close to her bedroom mirror.

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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