Spirit endures in bullet's wake

A girl whose stray-gunfire injury sparked a call to action against urban violence is making an unlikely recovery

March 28, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

The 6-year-old girl climbs off the couch and onto the living room floor, scooting toward the stairs. She props herself up, placing her left hand against the wall, then her right, and slowly makes her way up the steps. Her brothers and sisters wait on the second floor of their Southwest Baltimore rowhouse as her mother stands at the base. "There you go," Danielle Brooks tells her young daughter. Eight months after she was critically wounded by a bullet to the head, Raven Wyatt is home.

This didn't seem possible last July. While walking with a cousin to buy beads for her hair, Raven was struck by an errant bullet that police say was fired by a teen who fought another with his fists and returned with a handgun.A slug was lodged in the area of the brain primarily responsible for motor movements. She fell into a coma and wasn't progressing the way doctors had hoped. The outlook was bleak.

As Brooks, 31, kept a daily vigil over her daughter, the recurring crime-scene image of her tiny pink sandals surrounded by yellow tape served as a cold reminder that despite the city's declining crime rate, gun violence remains an all-too-common occurrence in neighborhoods that can seem beyond repair.

But if the injury to the city's youngest shooting victim of 2009 served as a call to action for those working for safer streets, her recovery might be reason for hope.

On Monday, the teen accused of pulling the trigger is set to go to trial. Lamont Davis, 17, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder. His attorney claims surveillance-camera footage will clear his client and plans to pin the crime on someone else.

The court proceedings are far from the mind of Brooks, a single mother, and Raven's four siblings, including a twin brother named Raymond. Raven, who they call "Mama," came home from Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in late January, but her recovery continues. She visits the hospital five days a week, where she eats breakfast, attends school, and participates in physical and occupational therapy. She rides bikes and swims, and plays with other children.

For a mother, the process was agonizing and protracted. But Brooks said she never lost hope and speaks matter-of-factly about a recovery others consider extraordinary.

"Everybody is so amazed," Brooks said. "But death never crossed my mind, because I ain't get that feeling. I'm strong, and my kids [are] like me."

A shot fired, a life changed

The shooting occurred just after 4 p.m. on July 3. Brooks, in the process of moving the family from their Wilkens Avenue home, was getting Raven ready for Independence Day festivities when she sent her, along with a cousin, to a nearby shopping center to buy beads for her hair.

The next thing Brooks can remember is a frantic phone call, followed by a neighbor driving her to the 300 block of S. Pulaski St., where Raven was lying in the street, unresponsive. She saw blood. As they followed the ambulance to University of Maryland Medical Center, she had no idea the bullet had entered the girl's head. But the police officer who rode with Raven in the ambulance told Brooks that the girl had been squeezing his hand. That sounded like good news, Brooks thought.

Raven was transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where doctors induced a coma. The bullet had entered her frontal lobe, the brain's emotional control center, and ended up in the cerebellum, which helps with motor control and balance.

Colleen Smith, a 29-year-old Kansas native who does missionary work in Southwest Baltimore, had been at the shooting scene moments before the gunfire broke out, dropping off neighborhood kids after a church summer camp wrapped up for the day.

Through people involved with Charm City Church, Smith reached out to Brooks and asked if she could help. All Brooks asked for was a blanket.

Smith put together a care package - including a blanket - and brought it to the hospital, sparking a relationship between the family and the church. Smith was impressed by the large number of family members who had gathered. She was equally amazed by Brooks' composure.

"Honestly, I'm surprised she [Raven] made it to the next day," Smith said. "But in the room with her family, there was hope. They accepted where they were at in that moment, and were going to work through it."

The household move that was taking place at the time of the shooting compounded the family's troubles. While Brooks' attention was divided, the old home was boarded up by the landlord, joining the dozens of the vacant properties that scar much of blighted Carrollton Ridge. Apart from a kitchen table, all of the family's remaining possessions were lost.

Journey to recovery begins

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