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Removed bullet was ‘a few inches away from her brain,’ mother of Falls girl, 2, says

Little J’raeona Moore has a long road to recovery, but she’s lucky to be alive.

Doctors removed a bullet lodged in the right side of her face, after the 2-year-old was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Niagara Falls on Tuesday afternoon.

“Luckily, it was a few inches away from her brain,” said ShaRonda Platt, J’raeona’s mother. “She has no damage done to her brain, and I’m thankful for that.”

Platt spoke to reporters about the shooting and her daughter’s recovery Wednesday in Women & Children’s Hospital, where J’raeona is in stable condition following surgery.

The Niagara Falls mother also had a message for her daughter’s shooter: Turn yourself in.

“You did what you did. Now you have to do the time for this,” Platt said. “I don’t know who you are, but I will see you again face to face.”

Police continue to search for the shooter and a four-door silver American-made car, likely a Pontiac or Taurus, with tinted windows and a rear spoiler.

Anyone with information should contact Niagara Falls police at 286-4711.

“We’re looking for a person of interest at this time,” said Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John R. Chella, “but we cannot call him the suspect.”

J’raeona was in the back seat of their car when Platt and a male friend stopped at the Hometown Grocery at 17th Street and Pierce Avenue on Tuesday afternoon.

The 27-year-old single mother went into the store to pick up a few things, when she heard the gunshots coming from the parking lot. Platt turned around to see what had unfolded. She screamed as she ran from the store: “My baby in that car! My baby in that car!”

When Platt got to the bullet-riddled car, J’raeona was conscious but bleeding from two wounds to her face.

“She was on her knees, and I just grabbed my baby,” Platt said Wednesday. “She was still in the back seat with the seat belt over her legs, so I undid the seat belt and I pulled her to the front and held her and just told him to get me to the hospital as quick as possible with my baby.”

There’s some speculation that the friend with Platt may have been the target of the shooters.

“We believe that someone had complications with the male, but we really don’t know why,” said Platt’s pastor, Duane Thomas of Praise Temple in Niagara Falls. “They weren’t shooting at [Platt].”

Capt. William M. Thomson, chief of detectives, said the man in the car fled after dropping Platt and the girl off at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, but he was later found for questioning.

“He wasn’t much help,” Thomson said. Police have not publicly identified the man, and Platt refused to name him Wednesday.

“That doesn’t matter,” Platt said. “This is about my child.”

Thomas said doctors removed the bullet near J’raeona’s right cheek, as well as a bullet fragment on the left side of her face.

“It was the most devastating thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” the pastor said.

A day after the shooting, Thomas was more hopeful.

“I went up there to see her today,” Thomas said Wednesday. “The baby is doing well. She’s doing so much better. She looks better – just a little swelling needs to come down.”

Platt – who spoke to reporters while flanked by Thomas and her mother, Sandra Watson – was a little more guarded about her daughter’s condition.

J’raeona suffered no brain damage, but she will need facial reconstructive surgery, and doctors are unsure how the injuries might affect her vision, Platt said.

“It’s going to be a long way to recovery,” Platt said. “There’s a lot that’s going on with her.”

Thomas said his church plans to organize fundraisers to help the family.

Platt – who broke down in tears at one point – asked people to pray for J’raeona.

“She is very lovable,” said Platt.

“She’ll wake up in the morning and rub my head and rub my stomach,” Platt said. “And if I’m crying, she’ll wipe my tears and ask me if I’m OK.”