The story around the neighborhood was that Dontay Jones’ son and the 9-year-old boy got in a fistfight playing basketball. Weeks passed and Jones didn’t see the other boy, so he didn’t think much of it.
On Saturday, the 9-year-old brought a loaded handgun to Jones’ house in West Baltimore and demanded his son come outside, Jones said.
The confrontation resulted in what police are calling an accident. The boy shot Jones’ teenage daughter, NyKayla, in her head and killed her.
“My son would not come outside. So he took my daughter’s drink, and she turned around upset,” Jones said. “She went to grab his shirt, just asking him ‘Why did you drink my stuff?’ and he raised his hand with the gun.”
Police confirmed the 9-year-old brought the gun to confront other children at the Edmondson Village home. They said the boy accidentally shot 15-year-old NyKayla Strawder, then dropped the gun and ran away.
The case will be one of the first to follow a new state law that limits when children enter Maryland’s juvenile courts. Under the law, 9-year-olds cannot be charged with crimes.
Still, investigators said the gun belongs to a woman related to the boy. She works as an armed security guard, and police are investigating possible criminal charges.
“Whoever the gun belonged to, and whoever his parent is, they need to be held accountable,” Jones said. “They didn’t keep their firearm in a safe place where it should be. There is no excuse for a 9-year-old to have a gun.”
Officials with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement are to provide help and resources to NyKayla’s family and neighbors in the coming weeks.
“The loss of NyKayla is one that will be heavy on the heart of the Edmondson Village community, and all of Baltimore for days, months, and years to come,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement Monday. “Not only that a 9-year-old child will now have to carry this trauma with him for the rest of his life. This is a tragic reminder of how important it is to always keep firearms secured and never in a place where a young person — a child — can have access to them.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison decried the prevalence of guns in the streets.
“Unfortunately, this weekend we had two incidents in which juveniles accidentally fired weapons. One incident resulted in the avoidable and tragic death of a young lady,” he said in a statement. “We must change the culture that makes it all too easy for our children to have access to deadly weapons.”
The 9-year-old falls under statewide reforms to the juvenile justice system that took effect June 1. Previously, Maryland had no minimum age for children to enter the juvenile courts. According to the Office of the Public Defender, this resulted in the arrest of a child as young as 6 years old.
In the last General Assembly session, lawmakers reformed the juvenile justice system and established limits for when children enter the juvenile courts. Now, the courts have no authority over a child under the age of 10, meaning he or she cannot be charged with any crime.
An 11- or 12-year-old may be charged with a crime of violence. But children younger than 13 may not be charged with nonviolent crimes.
“Pre-adolescent children demonstrate poor understanding of trial matters, in addition to poorer reasoning and ability to recognize relevant information for a legal defense. In fact, 1/3 of children under 13 function with impairments at a level comparable with mentally ill adults who have been found incompetent to stand trial,” according to a letter from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.
In Edmondson Village, an emotional Jones told of his daughter’s big personality, how she loved to dance and dreamed of a career as a fashion designer. Jones said the neighborhood children had been talking about one child carrying a gun, but he dismissed this.
“You would never think that one of them would actually have one,” Jones said.
He worries about the safety of his family and wants to move them from Edmondson Village. He also worries that his son feels guilt for NyKayla’s death.
Jones can’t shake those awful moments when he came down the stairs and onto the porch to find her.
“It happened right here. That’s where my daughter was lying,” he said, crying. “Could you imagine, walking down the steps, and your firstborn daughter is laying dead?”