Eight months ago, as his family and their friends filmed a music video at the intersection of Seventh and Willow in West Oakland, 23-month old baby Hiram Lawrence, Jr. was shot in the head. Six others, including his father, a 14-year old and a 16-year old, were also shot but survived.
Both the community and city leaders were angered, so Oakland police called in help from the federal governmanet. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office all began a months-long partnership with Oakland to track down and catch the suspected gunmen.
Friday at the Federal Building in Oakland, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag stood on stage with other federal partners, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, and Police Chief Howard Jordan. Haag announced 16-year old Frederick Charles Coleman had been charged as an adult in the murder and the shooting death of Hiram Junior. Investigators believe it was Coleman who put the bullet in Hiram Junior’s head. Eleven days after the shooting, the family decided to pull the plug on the baby’s life support.
Coleman is also being charged with six counts of attempted murder for his alleged involvement in the gang-related shooting that left four adults, a 14-year old boy and a 16-year old boy injured. He joins 30-year old Dionte Houff and 23-year old Houston Nathaniel III who were indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday. Jordan said his investigators are not looking for any more suspects.
“Although we cannot bring back life that has been taken or take the pain away from the injured … we can bring back some sense of closure to the families of our victims.”
Jordan added all three men are believed to be members of a notorious West Oakland street gang dubbed “Acorn.” Prosecutors believe they shot into the crowd on Nov. 28 thinking there were some rival gang members present. The charges include murder, attempted murder, assault, weapons violations and racketeering.
In the past year, there have been at least three young children killed by stray bullets. In Aug. 2011, three-year old Carlos Nava was crossing the street with his mother when he was struck by a bullet and killed. In January,, five-year old Gabriel Martinez.
Quan said being the mayor of a big city is tough, but the killings of children has been the toughest part.
“I think the saddest day I’ve had as mayor of Oakland is the day I visited Hiram at Children’s Hospital and his family," Quan said. "I want to thank that family for helping us to keep the peace in the aftermath of that shooting.”
Lorrain Taylor, founder of the Bay Area-based “1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence,” lost her own twin sons, 22, to violence in 2000. She said she was with Baby Hiram’s parents in the hospital when the 23-month old was on life support. Taylor is begging both authorities and the people of Oakland to work together, to not only prevent the violence, but she’s asking witnesses to report it if they see or hear anything. A parent’s pain, she added, is the worst when it involves burying a child.
“I want the witnesses to not be seen as a snitch but be seen as a helper to your community, as someone who cares. Because if you speak up, you’re going to help save lives.”