FERGUSON • More than 200 gathered Thursday night, including police officers and parents, calling for justice in a different name in Ferguson, this time for Jamyla Bolden.
They came to release balloons at a vigil for the 9-year-old killed by an unknown shooter two days earlier as she lay in her mother’s bed doing homework. One by one, speakers took turns at a bullhorn. A young girl sobbed near one of them.
“We all have to work collectively to heal this community and this family,” said Ferguson Police Chief Andre Anderson.
He also assured the crowd that the police department will not give up until Jamyla’s killer is caught.
There were calls from the crowd for people to share any information they had that might help find the killer. “If you know something, say something,” was among the exhortations.
When he had the bullhorn, local activist Zaki Baruti also urged anyone in the know about the shooting to speak up. “If we seriously mean black lives matter, then we all have to be serious about how black lives matter,” he said.
Mayor James Knowles III was in the crowd along with a handful of Ferguson police officers, one of whom was openly weeping.
The crowd also included small children, some too young to understand the reason for gathering. One tiny girl playfully swatted at a balloon. Other balloons had slogans such as “baby girl” and “princess” in honor of Jamyla.
Rena Perry, 34, lives in the neighborhood where the child was shot and brought her own 9-year-old daughter with her to the vigil.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Perry said, as she gathered her thoughts. “I get choked up thinking about it.”
Perry was disappointed with the size of the crowd at the vigil, referencing gatherings that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer and the unrest that followed the fatal shooting Wednesday afternoon of a suspect by St. Louis police. “I think there should be more people out here,” she said. “They were out here for the other (expletive).”
The gathering took place on a day in which Jamyla’s death continued to send shock waves through the St. Louis community — even as police could offer no new details.
On Thursday morning, Ferguson police called a press conference that largely focused more on the loss of a young life than on providing any clue about the identity of her killer.
Ferguson police Sgt. Dominica Fuller recounted how she was among at least three officers who took the call Tuesday night to respond to the shooting on Ellison Drive.
When she arrived she found Jamyla bleeding, shot as she lay in her mother’s bed doing her homework. Fuller made sure the scene was secure and that other victims were getting assistance. Jamyla’s mother was also injured in the shooting, which happened around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Fuller, who is also the mother of a 9-year-old, spoke of the devastation of that night.
“As a mother, I was hurt,” she said. “I showed emotion and I cried and said a prayer for her, and my heart is still broken.”
Thursday night, Fuller pleaded with the suspect to turn himself or herself in.
“If it’s heavy on our community’s hearts, the family’s hearts, I know it has to be hurting the people who did it,” she said. “We’re not here to judge this person, we are here to uphold and enforce the law and keep them safe too.”
Fuller said there is a lot of anger building in the community.
“We want whoever did this to know it’s OK to turn themselves in. We will make sure they get here safe, but we need to make sure they turn themselves in so the family and the community have closure. And we don’t want anyone to get hurt that may not have done it, but have been falsely accused. You’re grieving a child who had a future, and the fact is when you are grieving, you are angry.”
She said the incident only adds to the need to address violence.
“The simple fact is our kids are dying at a young age at a fast pace and we as a community must come together,” Fuller said.
News of the shooting prompted St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III and his wife, Ira DeWitt, to volunteer to pay for the funeral expenses. Ira DeWitt talked to Jamyla’s family earlier Thursday to offer her condolences and assistance.
Jane Higgins, a spokeswoman, said Ira DeWitt “simply couldn’t stand the story.”
“A little girl killed in her mother’s bedroom, where she should feel the safest?” Higgins said. “It broke her heart.”
Earlier, a GoFundMe account had been set up to help pay funeral costs. The site also has several photos of Jamyla.
FATHER CALLS FOR PEACE
Jamyla’s father, James Bolden, said his daughter was happy and goofy and loved to dance and sing at his church.
Bolden, who is separated from Jamyla’s mother and did not live at the house where she was killed, called for peace and justice.
“I just want her to be in peace and find out why it happened and the person or persons who inflicted this pain come to justice,” he said. “I’m looking for people to come together in this world to celebrate our daughter and her life. That’s what it’s about, it’s about an innocent life taken too soon.”
He asked people to come together “as a family” to solve violence in the community. He said violence is not a matter of ignorance, but a choice a person makes.
“There’s a fine line where a person has to decide, ‘Should I do it or should I not do it?’ It all comes down to that choice.”
Thursday night, after the balloons were released at the vigil and after several short speeches, the crowd marched the few blocks from Jamyla’s home on Ellison Drive to the Canfield Green apartments, site of Brown’s shooting a year ago.
On the way there, the marchers chanted “Show me what community looks like,” a variation on the “Show me what democracy looks like” chant that has been popular during Brown protests.
Joe Holleman of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.