Six-month-old girl shot dead while having nappy changed
Infant hit five times as Chicago gunman fires into father's minivan in suspected gang attack
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Wednesday 13 March 2013
Chicago’s gang violence has claimed its youngest victim this year, after a six-month-old girl was shot and killed as her father changed her nappy.
The shooting took place on Monday afternoon in the Woodlawn neighbourhood on Chicago’s South Side, as Jonathan Watkins, 29, changed his infant daughter, Jonylah, on the front seat of a minivan. An attacker approached from behind and fired an automatic pistol, hitting Mr Watkins twice and his daughter five times.
The child was rushed to Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago, where she died of her wounds early on Tuesday morning. Her father was in a stable condition. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a press conference that Mr Watkins had a criminal history and was probably affiliated with a local gang.
“He was obviously targeted,” said Supt McCarthy. “No child, certainly not an infant, should be a victim of gang violence.”
The gunman has not been identified, and is thought to have fled across a nearby car park to a waiting blue van, which appears on surveillance footage. Police have few other leads. Locals have reportedly declined to assist the investigation. “We don’t have one individual who’s stepping up to help us,” Supt McCarthy said.
It was not Jonylah’s first brush with gun violence. Her mother, 20-year-old Judy Watkins, was shot in the knee while eight months pregnant, just blocks from the murder scene. Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, described the murder as “senseless, despicable [and] heartbreaking”, adding: “Everybody has a role to play to make sure every child is in a safe city, in a safe neighbourhood… I will not rest until every child grows up in that environment.”
Chicago has come under the spotlight as President Barack Obama pushes for stricter gun control, not least because it is the President’s hometown, and Mr Emanuel his former White House chief of staff. Jonylah was treated at the hospital where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton died in January, after being shot days after performing with her school band at Mr Obama’s inauguration.
Despite a spate of widely reported shootings, Supt McCarthy said murders were down 26 per cent on the same period last year. In 2012, the city recorded more than 500 killings, compared with 414 in New York and 297 in Los Angeles.
The Rev Corey Brooks, pastor of the South Side’s New Beginnings Church, is acting as a spokesman for the Watkins family, and has offered a $5,000 (£3,359) reward for information leading to an arrest. Rev Brooks has seen gun violence before. In November 2012, a man of 21 was shot dead during a funeral service the pastor was conducting for another shooting victim; he held the second funeral a week later. On Tuesday, Rev Brooks dismissed as irrelevant the police’s emphasis on gang involvement. “I think our focus needs to be on the fact that a six-month-old baby died,” he told reporters. “[We] should be outraged that in our city a six-month-old baby could be shot and killed.”
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