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MEAN STREETS ARE JUST ONE MORE BARRIER DISABLED FALLS BOY MUST OVERCOME

For a kid who hasn't been able to walk since age 2, Joshua Cline sure gets around.

And his wheels aren't even motorized -- just look at the black tire marks on his hands and muscular forearms that pump that buggy manually.

Not only does Joshua have a biblical name, but he has a face resembling the traditional rendition of David, the shepherd boy who slew Goliath with his slingshot.

In his own way, Josh, 13 years old, has been taking on giants in his neighborhood, defying all the odds against a paraplegic's making it on these tough streets.

The question is: Will he become another casualty to the neighborhood where he lives with his mom and little sister?

One day last summer, after an outing with friends in the badlands of 19th Street, Josh returned to the family flat on Ferry Street with a cereal box in his wheelchair. Inside the cereal box were a .357-caliber Magnum wrapped in a sock and a .22 target pistol in a zip-lock bag. He also was packing a few .38 shells.

His mother, Abbe Gillingham, 40, panicked and threw them into a Dumpster on 19th Street.

"I don't like guns," she explains.

Then, after thinking about it some more, Gillingham called police. Officer David Kok poked around inside the Dumpster, but no guns.

Neighborhood youths had gotten there first. One of them took the .357, and another one got the .22. They gave the .38 shells back to Josh, then traded one of the guns for some pot.

Josh explains how he came home with the two guns.

"A friend of mine gave them to me," he says. "It was a friend I made over the summer. He was home alone -- his mother was in North Carolina and his father was in Florida. He told me a friend of his got mad at him and was going to tell about the guns. So I took them home for him."

A few days later, Josh rode his wheelchair down the alley between 19th and 20th streets and was just sitting there, talking to friends. Suddenly an older-model Ford sedan screeched out of nowhere and nearly ran him over.

Grinning behind the wheel was an 18-year-old who had been with the kid who fished the .357 Magnum out of the Dumpster.

"He came around the corner," Josh says, "and he beeped and waved. I knew him."

Gillingham says the youth was trying to run over her son or at least to scare him out of talking to the police about the guns.

"I don't think he was," Josh says. "He wouldn't still be talking to me if he did."

Officer James Reynolds was on that case. He has known Josh for a long time.

"I thought he was a good kid, until the incident with the guns," he says. "As he gets older, he's getting more involved in these things. I hate to see him go downhill. . . . "

A couple days later, Josh was hanging out on 19th Street with some friends. One of them was a 13-year-old boy visiting home from a detention center.

Josh recalls that this kid had been present that day in the alley. In fact, he had tried to poke a stick through the spokes of Josh's wheelchair.

Now the kid started throwing rocks at Josh. One hit him in the jaw.

"Then he threatened me and my mom," Josh says.

Josh rounded up some friends and returned to the house in 19th Street with a carton of raw eggs.

"I bought them at the store," he says.

They egged the house.

Somebody called police, and Josh's mother was charged with harassment and endangering the welfare of a child for letting Josh egg the house. She was released on $350 bail. Police also prepared charges against Josh as a juvenile. The other juveniles weren't found.

"I was just standing there," says Gillingham. "I started to walk away with the kids, and he called me back, trying to start more trouble."

The "he," she says, was an adult who jumped into the fracas and grabbed a 10-year-old boy, trying to lift him off the ground by his shirt.

"I know he's a registered sex offender, so I was mad," she says. "I think the cops should notify people that he's living here as a sex offender."

Officer Jay Fisher Jr. says, regardless of the man's past, neighborhood kids don't have the right to harass him and attack his property.

"I saw the eggs dripping from the side of the house," Fisher says. "So I took action. Especially since there was an adult who was with the kids. I want those neighborhood kids to take this seriously. It's not uncommon for a bunch of them to gather around that house and harass that family."

Gillingham, who is from Sanborn, lives with Josh and her 11-year-old daughter, Marissa, and their black shepherd dog. Their flat is across Ferry from Amato's Tavern, a local landmark built by John Amato's grandfather, Felix Palermo, in 1914.

Gillingham has no car, no telephone and no handicap access to the house.

"All the kids are amazed at the things Josh can do," she says, explaining that a tumor in his spine left her son paralyzed from the waist down at age 2. "They look out for him, too. This is the first year I've let him go out on the street without an adult."

Josh seems to gravitate to older kids.

Why?

"Because kids my age don't seem to like me," he says.

Josh says he would like to work on computers someday and only wishes he could afford a laptop.

"He's a good kid," says Detective Anthony Conte. "He has a good mother. But she's had a lot of problems. . . . Now he's branching out on the street, going places without Mommy and feeling his oats in the community. Unfortunately, he's being exposed to the environment."

Conte says the Niagara Falls Police Department has just recovered the Dumpster guns and wrapped up the case. Josh's summer friend who wanted him to hide the guns? His father got arrested for not having a pistol permit. The two kids who got the guns out of the Dumpster? Charged with weapon possession.

There's only one loose end: The kid who tried to run over Josh in the alley. He may or may not be one of the kids arrested on the gun charge.

Gillingham says her son's marks in school are "mixed." He failed sixth grade.

"I got in too much trouble, and the school suspended me too many times," Josh explains. "I got lippy with the teachers. And I kept tipping my chair back."

Josh demonstrates, and his front wheels rise in the air.

"I can't help it, because sometimes when I take off it happens. The teacher sent me down to the office, and I got suspended."

"For 'gross insubordination,' " his mother says.

"They were afraid I'd fall over. I never fell over in school."

As she ponders the past few months of her son's life and wonders about his future, Gillingham says she'd like to move back to her native Sanborn, or to Ransomville, where they lived before moving into the city a few years ago. But they'll probably stay in the city, where she works as a substitute teacher's aide.

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