The relatives of children shot in Minneapolis' North Side pleaded Sunday for witnesses to come forward as local business leaders announced plans to offer reward money to those who cooperate with the investigation.
"Every day, every day, every day, we wake up, it starts over again. The pain, the hurt, it starts over and over again," said Raishawn Smith, the father of 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith, who was shot earlier this month while jumping on a trampoline in the city's Jordan neighborhood.
The pain, he said, is not something that can be cured with a bandage. It is senseless. It is deep. It is constant.
"We're standing together," Smith said. "For as long as it takes, as long as my knees can take it, I'm gonna stand up for our babies."
The shootings of three young children — Smith, 10-year-old Ladavionne Garrett Jr., and 6-year-old Aniya Allen — in the span of just a couple weeks shocked the conscience of a city already reeling from the pandemic, rising violent crime, and George Floyd's death in police custody last year.
On Sunday afternoon, relatives of the three children gathered outside City Hall with representatives from the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Downtown Council, and Crime Stoppers of Minnesota. The organizations announced that they are fundraising to offer a combined $30,000 in reward money to anyone who offers information.
"What hurts me is that I probably helped your families who did this to us," said K.G. Wilson, Aniya's grandfather, and a local activist who works to reduce violence. Aniya was shot Monday; her family announced Wednesday that she had died.
"Look at us," he said, asking people who have information to share it.
Their request came amid as especially violent weekend that left at least four people dead and 12 wounded. One shooting downtown early Saturday left two people dead and eight others wounded. Police took a 23-year-old suspect into custody in that shooting but had not filed charges as of Sunday afternoon. Police said he was one of two shooters, and the other was one of the victims. Police have until roughly noon Tuesday to file charges.
Amid their pleas for information, and just a glimpse of closure in the cases, some of the children's family members pleaded too for more officers in hopes of stopping the surge in violence. While gathering outside North Memorial Health Hospital for a vigil praying for the children on Friday night, they heard the "pop, pop, pop" of gunshots coming from the direction of Broadway Avenue, said Randy Ottoson.
"We need more police officers. There is no doubt in my mind," he said. Comparing it to walking and chewing gum at the same time, Ottoson said they need police reform, because Black lives matter, but he believes they need more police on the street too.
"I'm praying for all of these families but, you know what, I'm praying for the next people too," Ottoson said.
The surge in violence comes at a time when the city's elected leaders are engaged in a fierce political battle about how to change policing following Floyd's death. Some want to cut police funding while boosting violence prevention and other services. Others want to boost police staffing while building out those other programs.
Nearly 200 police officers have left the city since Floyd's death, including dozens who filed PTSD claims.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who appeared alongside the children's families, said they have requested assistance from other law enforcement agencies and are working with state and federal partners as they attempt to curb the violence.
The city's Office of Violence Prevention also sent teams out this weekend.
A "very small group," including director Sasha Cotton deployed overnight Friday into Saturday "to work with the families and the crowd," city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said. They also sent "a few teams" to work downtown from roughly 10 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m., "engaging and de-escalating conflicts," McKenzie said.
John Elder, a spokesman for Minneapolis police who also serves on the Crime Stoppers board, said people can share information anonymously.
This story is developing and will be updated.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994