Cleveland officials make plea for tips after baby's death

AP News
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Posted: Oct 02, 2015 10:10 PM
Cleveland officials make plea for tips after baby's death

CLEVELAND (AP) — A 5-month-old girl in a car with her mom is shot dead in Cleveland; a 5-year-old boy playing football is killed by crossfire police blame on two teenagers; and a 3-year-old boy riding in a car is fatally wounded during a drive-by.

In a span of four weeks, three children were shot to death in Cleveland, and city leaders are making an emotional plea for the public to help police solve and stop the violence.

At a news conference Friday, the police chief was visibly emotional and appeared angry. The prosecutor offered a $25,000 reward for useful information to investigators.

"It's been hard to stomach," Police Chief Calvin Williams said, the day after he broke down in tears while talking to reporters at a crime scene, and decried how "innocent babies" were being killed as the result of meaningless disputes.

Williams said people who've been protesting violence by police officers in Cleveland and elsewhere need to pay attention to what is happening on the city's streets.

"We've marched enough," Williams said. "People need to stop chanting and do something."

Police have provided few details about the infant's slaying Thursday, but gang and youth violence workers said Friday they've been told by residents that more than a dozen shots were fired from a home or apartment building into a car with Aavielle Wakefield, her mother and grandmother inside. Aavielle died later at a hospital. The two women were unharmed.

Williams confirmed at the news conference that the shooting was not a drive-by.

Five-year-old Ramon Burnett was killed by crossfire between two teenage boys Sept. 4 while playing football behind his grandmother's home. Major Howard, 3, was fatally shot inside a car during a drive-by on Sept. 15. And a 10-year-old boy was badly wounded Sept. 19 in a drive-by shooting that also killed his father.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said at the news conference that the reward money is being offered for information about the killing of Aavielle and the shooting that wounded the 10-year-old and killed his father.

Two men, ages 18 and 19, have been indicted in the killing of Ramon Burnett. Police have issued a warrant for a 22-year-old suspect in the fatal shooting of Major Howard.

While the Cleveland police gang unit has been bolstered in the last few months by additional officers and by federal agents, what police need now are solid tips that can be pursued.

"If we don't have information, we're just spinning our wheels," Williams said.

Williams told reporters Thursday that many of the shootings aren't about anything. Those trying to keep the peace concur.

Hank Davis of the Peacemakers Alliance, which works with gangs and groups prone to violence, said Friday that social media websites, especially Facebook and Instagram, have helped fuel and ignite deadly disputes rooted in someone feeling like they've been disrespected. Programs — not more police — are what's needed to quell the violence, Davis said.

"We need resources in the community so we can police it ourselves," Davis said. "They have lost faith in society."