YNN 10 Years: Death of Kathina Thomas sheds new light on gun violence
YNN is looking back on 10 years of stories that have left an impact on the communities we cover. It was tragic story in Albany that put a face on gun crime in one of the area’s toughest neighborhoods. Sadly that face belonged to a 10-year-old girl. But Kathina Thomas’ death gave new life and focus to a community program that’s helping clean up the streets. YNN Beth’s Croughan has more.
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- "911. What's your emergency?"
"Um, I think there's been a child just shot on North Lake and, and.."
It was May 29, 2008, when Albany police dispatch received an alarming 911 call. A child had been shot.
"What's the matter, honey? You're at 445 First Street?"
"Yes. And North Lake."
"I think she was just shot."
She was Kathina Thomas. A 10-year-old girl playing outside her First Street home on a Thursday evening.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares said, "It was just one of the most devastating events. It was a new low for Albany County and our entire community."
"She's lying on the floor, she's just like...nine years old."
"She's nine years old?"
"Yes, just a little child."
Legal analyst Paul DerOhannesian said, "I think what we saw in this case was the transformation of violence from the adult generation, to the teenage generation to the childhood generation."
Kathina's young life was one of two lost that day. Convicted triggerman Jermayne Timmons was just 15 years old. He's now serving 15 years to life.
Soares said, "Even the most violent cases that come to the Office of the Albany County District Attorney, at the end of the day the root cause, it's fighting over a girl, or one young man disrespected another young man. So it's the time old issues that bring people into conflict, except when those kids have no way of dealing with conflict, and they have no one to go to, to learn how to address conflict. They go out and look for a weapon; they look to address it themselves."
During the investigation, Timmons told police he fired at a group of kids with a weapon he called a community gun, kept in a neighborhood trash can for all to use.
"And to this day, that gun has never been found, and it makes us wonder how many more community guns are out there," DerOhannesian said.
"We've been schooled about community guns," said Pastor Charlie Muller of Victory Christian Church. "We've been schooled about just guns in general."
Kathina Thomas was killed not far from Pastor Charlie Muller's feeding center - the setting for what would soon become a crusade to clean up the city's streets.
Pastor Charlie said, "If a young kid has a handgun in a troubled area, chances that that gun would be used in a crime goes way up."
In the four years since, Soares and Pastor Charlie say they've collected 450 guns. They can be turned in -- no questions asked -- in exchange for a gift card. The pastor then turns them over to police
Soares said, "Gun buy-backs had failed in the past because we were asking people to come to law enforcement and surrender guns. So having a person like Pastor Charlie being the the front person to receive those guns, it was genius."
And through the buy-backs, another initiative was formed - ENOUGH.
"We're working with children, getting children to understand that they're part of a community that cares for them, that loves them, that adores them," Soares.
Pastor Charlie said, "It would be in the hundreds and even thousands, you know, because ever since Kathina, every single program that we've done in the community, every bicycle we've given out, every event that we put on."
All have an anti-violence message, and it's all because of that 10-year-old girl with bright eyes, a beautiful smile, and a whole lot of life ahead of her.
Soares said, "We should never forget what happened. But the fact that it did spark this overwhelming desire on the part of people to pay attention to what's happening in the urban centers and to reinvest in youth, I think Kathina would be proud of what's happened in her absence."