Shootings of two children started and ended a bloody summer in Buffalo, leaving two young boys fighting for their lives and city leaders calling for an end to gang violence.
The summer started when an 11-year-old, Juan “Macho” Rodriguez, was hit by a stray bullet while he was opening his front door.
Then on Thursday night, 8-year-old Donnell “Donny” Bibbes was shot in the head while sitting in a parked car with his mother and two older brothers.
Police say the two shootings were gang-related, and that neither boy was the intended target.
Juan was caught in the crossfire of two gang members when he opened the door to call his siblings inside to safety. Police believe that shooting had nothing to do with Juan or his family.
Donnell was in a car with two older brothers who police believe are gang members, and one was the target. What’s more, the intended target is a suspect in two homicides, a police source said.
“We all know that this was a targeted act of violence,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said Friday morning. “It is not a random act of violence. Donnell was with members of his family and we believe that a member of the family was targeted.”
“This is a senseless act of violence that leaves an 8-year-old fighting for his life,” he added.
Both boys are now the innocent victims of guns and the city’s gang culture.
“We had the shooting of that 11-year-old boy and that was unacceptable,” said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.
The incident Thursday night happened after Donnell’s mother, Chawniqua Johnson, had driven her three sons to visit a relative on the 400 block of South Division Street.
Before they exited the car, police said, the shooter got out of another vehicle and approached the one Donnell and his family were in. The shooter opened fire with a handgun from about 20 to 30 feet away and fired as many as 15 bullets.
When the gunfire ended, the shooter had missed his mark and instead Johnson’s youngest son was gravely wounded from a bullet to his head.
Johnson drove away in search of help and the gunman fled in another vehicle. She spotted a police patrol car by a nearby shopping plaza and flagged it down. Her son was rushed to Women & Children’s Hospital, where he was in critical condition Saturday morning after two surgeries.
The intended target of the shooting was believed to be Davieon White, Donnell’s 19-year-old brother, who was seated in the front seat of the car, according to police and friends of the family.
“He is a suspect in two homicides,” one police source said.
The third brother, Raheem White, 23, was seated in the back seat of the car next to Donnell, authorities said.
Thursday’s shooting is the latest in what has been a summer marked by repeated violence. The first two months of the summer saw the number of shootings surpass any other time of the year, with nearly 70 people shot in June and July. At least 24 people have been shot in 20 shooting incidents so far in August, leaving six people dead and 18 injured.
Police say that most of the recent shootings in Buffalo have been gang-related, with investigators getting little help in solving these cases. Witnesses and community members with information are often unwilling to give it to police.
Addressing the gunfire between rival gangs, a police source said, “The gangs are shooting each other. One week they’re the shooting victim, but the week before that, they are the suspect in a shooting.”
The mayor and the police commissioner on Friday issued repeated appeals for witnesses to give statements to homicide investigators. In stressing how crucial cooperation is, the mayor said that going forward, rewards from the police department and Crimestoppers would be offered to help solve other shootings.
“These crimes will not be tolerated and our police will not rest until we find the individuals,” Brown said. “There are individuals out in the community that know the individual who is responsible for this shooting.”
When Derenda was asked why there are a high number of unsolved homicides this year, he said many of them have gang connections and gang members often refuse to cooperate.
At least a third of this year’s 32 homicides are believed to be gang-related.
Davieon and Raheem White, police say, have been identified as possible members of an East Side street gang.
A second police source confirmed that Davieon White is a suspect in two shootings. He has not been charged in either incident, but Davieon White has a lengthy arrest record, with his most recent encounter with police on Aug. 10, when he was charged with burglarizing the home of a neighbor in the housing projects where he lives.
Davieon White flaunted a gang lifestyle in hundreds of photos and videos on Facebook. His page is littered with references to gang culture and drug dealing.
One photo from 2014 shows Davieon White in a hospital bed with the text “Ain’t no bullet stoppin me.”
Whether Donnell, 8, would survive the shooting remained unknown Saturday morning.
He suffered a devastating bullet wound to his brain, according to police sources.
The mayor, Derenda and Deputy Police Commissioner Kimberly Beaty met with Johnson and more than a dozen family members at the hospital Friday morning before updating the media on the boy’s condition at a news conference in front of the hospital.
And while police believe gang activity resulted in Donnell becoming an unintended victim, that does not diminish the pain family members are experiencing.
Brown said the family members were “leaning on each other and asking the community for prayer.”
The mayor also released a statement from Donnell’s mother, thanking everyone for prayers and asking for privacy.
But neighbors of Donnell felt compelled to speak out and express their feelings about what happened Thursday.
Jakyle Foster, a neighbor and the boyfriend of Donnell’s 18-year-old sister Dazhanique White, recalled happier times this summer when Donnell was taken by relatives to go fishing and posed for a photograph holding a fish that had been caught.
But most of the time, Donnell spent his time off from school in his Kenfield-Langfield neighborhood.
“Every day I’m outside with him throwing a football around or he’s riding his bicycle,” Foster said. “He’s such a funny, good kid.”
Another neighbor who has known Donnell since he was an infant said his mother has done her best raising four children as a single parent.
“He’s an awesome boy and everybody is praying for him,” said neighbor Carmella Turner.
Among those praying for Donnell is Juan Rodriguez’s mother, Sonia Pagan, who understands the heartbreak and shares Johnson’s pain.
Pagan said she was shocked when her sister called her Friday morning to inform her that another child had been shot in the city.
“Please let the family know they are in my prayers,” she said. “The road to healing is definitely a long one but God covers his children and I will continue to keep the family in my prayers.”
Pagan said Juan remains paralyzed on the left side of his body, but that he is improving with his cognition.
The violence, she said, needs to stop.
And just as Pagan is now praying for Johnson’s little boy, earlier this summer Johnson’s thoughts were with Juan and his family.
The day following Juan’s shooting – with no way of knowing her own son would be shot two months later – Johnson shared this on Facebook:
“Let’s have a moment of silence and pray for our city and the whole (716). My father God I come to you asking that you give us our city back. We’re tired of hurting, losing our loved ones, crying, struggling and not being able to make it back home to our kids. God I just ask that you put an end to it, so our kids can play and not get killed. Where we can hang outside and not have to run from bullets. God I’m on bended knees pleading please give us our city back and please stop the violence.”
Aaron Besecker contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com