Woman shot dead while cradling baby after gunmen gatecrash christening party

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The Independent Online

A mother was shot dead by gunmen while holding a baby at a christening party when a gang of armed men in hooded tops gatecrashed the event at a community hall on Saturday night.

The victim, named in reports as Zainab Kalako, was in her thirties and originally from Sierra Leone, west Africa. She was shot on the Wood Dene Estate near Queens Road in Peckham, south London. The baby, who had reportedly just been christened, was unharmed. The victim's own children were not at the party.

Three men were arrested last night in connection with the killing and were being questioned by police.

The men who gatecrashed the party were armed with at least two guns. They fired a number of shots, and hit the woman once. They stole guests' handbags, mobile phones and wine. The woman, whose name has not been confirmed by police, died in hospital shortly after 11pm.

One of the 100 guests at the christening party, Stacey, a mother with three children who has lived on the Wood Dene Estate for seven years, said guests were chatting when a fight broke out between two African men.

"There was lots of screaming and shouting but I couldn't understand what they were saying because it was in African. One of the guys went away, but then came back again as if he wanted to sort it out," she said.

"Suddenly there was a loud bang and everyone just started running. I saw this woman drop to the floor and she was holding a baby in her arms. The woman who was shot didn't seem to have anything to do with the argument. The idea that someone could just be stood there one minute and then dead the next is terrifying. And, even worse, that poor baby could have been killed.

"Now everyone on the estate is scared to go out. There are old people here who are terrified. Who knows if these people will come back."

Another eyewitness told The Daily Telegraph: "She was carrying the baby who had been christened but that didn't bother them. The man who was holding the shotgun just turned towards her, raised the barrel and put a bullet in her head."

Detective Chief Inspector Ashley Sharp, of the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident team, which specialises in gun crime in the black community, said this was "an outrageous intrusion into a family celebration". He said: "We are not aware of the family's religion but it was a christening-style event.

"People were obviously shocked and panicked. Three men, who were uninvited, came into the community hall. A number of shots were discharged. One of these shots caused a fatal injury. She was only shot once."

DCI Sharp confirmed the victim was born in Sierra Leone and did not live in the Peckham area.

"She was attending what was a family celebration, and was a friend of the people there," he said. "When the shooting took place the victim was holding in her arms a baby ­ but fortunately the child was unhurt. There was no specific relationship between the woman and the child. It's possible that this was a robbery, it's possible it was pre-planned.

"There were a number of shots fired at random in a spray pattern during the incident. So far we have no information that this woman was singled out for any particular reason."

Police tape cordoned off the Wood Dene Estate yesterday with only residents allowed in and out. Inside the rundown housing project a few young children played football in the sun, with police watching on as they guarded the crime scene.

The area where the shooting took place is residential and among the more deprived parts of London. Residents said they were shocked. Roberta Otaru said: "I was so terrified, I live so close to where the shooting happened. It brings a bad name to Peckham again. We have been settled now for some time but this is bad." Vicky Idiegbe, from the Wood Dene Project Community Group, said residents had been desperate for better security. "We've been fighting the council to make changes for a long time ­ there are no CCTV cameras, the lights don't work, and everything is hidden behind trees ... Lifts don't work, and people are scared to walk at night."

* One man was fatally wounded and another was seriously injured in a shooting at a barber's shop in the Newtown area of Birmingham on Saturday. The man who died was taken to hospital but died of his injuries yesterday morning. He was 29. The second man, aged 24, was in a serious but stable condition.