Calls for gun ban as youths die in Miami shootings

It was pretty much the classic school playground disagreement. John Kamel, 14, wanted his wristwatch back. Taunting John over his artificial leg, the school bully, also 14, refused to hand it over. But there were no old-fashioned fisticuffs. To make his point, the bully pulled a .38 pistol from his jacket and shot John Kamel dead.

Monday's school murder in West Palm Beach, Florida, was the 10th fatal shooting involving children or youth gangs in a week in the Miami area.

Just when south Florida felt it had rid itself of its Wild West image, the killings shocked local residents and led to calls by parents for a campaign against gun-carrying in low-income areas inhabited mainly by blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities.

The first of the latest spate of killings was on 20 January, while Miami joined the rest of the country in celebrating Martin Luther King day. Five-year-old Rickia Issac was walking home from a parade with older friends when she was hit in the head by a stray bullet fired by teenage gang members in the Miami ghetto, ironically known as Liberty City. She was declared brain dead and her family opted to turn off her life support machine three days later.

The next day, Tuesday, five young men were found bound, gagged and shot dead, execution-style, in another Miami ghetto known as Model City. Police said the flat where they died had been used as a distribution centre for marijuana.

Later that day, shots rang out in the upmarket Coral Gables area of Miami, near the well-known Miracle Mile shopping centre, and teenager Guillermo Bolanos fell dead. Police said he had been shot from a passing black car but that they did not know the motive, if any.

On Saturday, Annie Jackson, a 28-year-old mother of five, was hit in the head and mortally wounded by a stray bullet apparently fired by gang members in Miami's Little River district. She was carrying her five-month old son at the time but the child escaped with only bruises as he fell. Police said the gunfire was between two young gangs competing over drug distribution in the neighbourhood.

Last Sunday, a young man with a gun walked in on a backroom dominoes game in an area north of Miami and opened fire on the players. One man died and three were wounded. Police do not yet know why.

After Monday's West Palm Beach school murder, police arrested 14-year- old Tronneal Mangum, a black youth described by schoolmates as a bully who had been taunting John Kamel, who was of Egyptian origin.

"Tronneal is not the demon people are making him out to be," his mother said yesterday. "He is a fun-loving child, one of eight. He loves to go fishing. I don't know where he got the gun. I don't allow guns in my house."