Tyreik Gadsden misses his toys. He misses his friends. But mostly, the 5-year-old misses his home.
Tyreik wasn’t in the room last month when doctors first revealed that a stray bullet had damaged his spine and stolen his ability to walk, his mother Lashaunna Jones said. He still doesn’t grasp the full extent of his injuries.
“In his mind, he’s still thinking he’s going to get up and move,” the 32-year-old North Charleston woman said.
Jones twice clung to her son’s side as troubled thoughts disturbed his sleep during a stint at Medical University Hospital.
“Only thing he was saying was, ‘No, no, no.’ And trying to wake him up — he would just start crying,” she said. “He’s doing a little better with that now. I had to pray for that.”
Jones was again by her son’s side Thursday afternoon following a rehabilitation session at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. Two weeks after the shooting, it remains unclear whether his condition is permanent, she said.
“Right now, they can’t say — I guess him being so young and all. But they don’t want to lie and say it’s a possibility either,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jones and her family can only hope.
Asked of his feelings as he rested from his physical therapy session, Tyreik replied, “Good,” drawing out the word in a raised pitch, as children often do.
He recently completed child development classes at Dunston Primary School but has gone without his favorite cartoons, SpongeBob and the Teenage Ninja Turtles, in the weeks since due to his hospitalization. He also misses spending time with his two older brothers.
Much of his time is spent “playing Legos and eating fruit with my granny,” particularly pineapples, he said.
He’s aware of his family’s continued prayers for healing and the well wishes he’s received from the community he left behind. “It makes me happy,” he said.
He’s looking forward to the day he gets to his North Charleston home and returning to school in the fall.
“Yay,” he exclaimed at the thought, “I’m going to kindergarten!”
Pictures that circulated in the wake of the shooting showed Tyreik lying in a hospital bed and sitting tall in a wheelchair. Both captured smiles that were wide and bright.
“You remember those pictures I took of you, and how you were always smiling? What were you thinking about when you were smiling like that? Say, ‘I thank God,’ ” she began to prod.
“I thank God I’m still alive,” he said, following her lead.
Photos of Tyreik hanged Thursday from a bulletin board at the Charleston Police Department, within view of a team of detectives tasked with tracking down the person responsible for his injuries.
It’s a move the team doesn’t often make, said Richard Holmes, the lead detective on the case. But the investigators welcomed the extra motivation the images would inspire, he said.
“We don’t want violence like this to get out of control, so we try to work as fast as possible,” Holmes said.
The detectives busied themselves, sifting through witness statements in search of new leads. Their efforts led to the arrest of Calvin Brown Jr., 27, of Hampden Court, a day later on two counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.
Details surrounding the shooting at the Wraggborough Homes housing project on Charleston’s East Side are few. Tyreik was there visiting his maternal grandmother the night of May 22 when a stray bullet entered his lower back.
“We all have kids and younger members in our families. We want them to feel safe in their communities. This may have been an accident, but we still need resolution so the entire city and community can heal,” Holmes said on the eve of Brown’s arrest.
A second man, 20, who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg is believed to be the gunman’s intended target, Holmes said.
The grandmother had reported that she and Tyreik walked into an apparent gunfight a few feet away from her front door. Holmes, however, said Charleston police at this point have no reason to believe a second gunman was involved.
A motive for the shooting is not clear. The 20-year-old has not been cooperative with investigators, Holmes said.
Detectives had a general idea of who was involved, Holmes said prior to Brown’s arrest, though he wouldn’t go into specifics about what evidence or statements linked led to that conclusion.
An arrest affidavit for Brown, however, alleged that a witness recognized Brown as resembling the gunman. Further arrests are possible in the case, police have said.
“What we need from the community is for anybody who may have seen anything to let us know. The smallest piece of information can help us,” Holmes said.
The NAACP, National Action Network, local lawmakers and others decried the shooting and similar acts of violence in a fundraiser Monday that raised $7,500 to contribute toward Tyreik’s medical expenses.
Dunston Primary, Tyreik’s school, and other concerned residents repeated the call in a march days later through the streets of North Charleston.
That event raised an additional $1,500 toward the cause, Principal Janice Malone said. The school will continue to collect donations.
Tyreik’s family members appeared hopeful in conversations Malone had with them in recent days.
“They’re holding up,” she said. “I spoke with his paternal grandmother, and she is very prayerful that her grandson will walk again. Doctors are preparing him for life in a wheelchair, but she says she knows otherwise.”
Several of Tyreik’s schoolmates participated in last week’s march on his behalf.
The students have been open about their fears and concerns since the incident, Malone said. Many battle similar challenges related to gun violence, homelessness, hunger, domestic violence and other issues on a daily basis, she said.
“They’re young kids. We are a part of the community, and whatever affects the children, they bring it to school,” Malone said. “Sometimes when you’re that little, it’s hard to articulate what’s going on. They may be angry, they may be sleepy, defiant in some ways or just cross for whatever reason. We don’t know what they’ve been through the day before or the night before.”
For that reason, the school’s teachers always offer their students a high five, a handshake or a hug at the start of their day. They ask their students how they’re feeling on a daily basis, she said, to help the children open up about their problems.
“There are so many challenges, so many things that we have to face with our children before we can even get to the academics. When we see them struggling or failing, it’s not that they can’t do the work. They just have so many hurdles they have to cross to get to where they need to be,” Malone said “We have to break that cycle. We have to put children first.”
For Malone, Tyreik’s shooting was “at the top of the list” of circumstances that have troubled her over her 30-year career working with students.
“As a community, as a whole, I think we should be more outraged. I’ve seen more of an outcry at times when it concerned an adult, but what about our children?” she said. “Children are innocent. They have no control over where they’re going to be or what they’re going to do. There should have been a huge outcry from this community.”
Community support has been crucial for Tyreik’s parents, as they don’t want mounting concerns to distract them from their son’s health, said Michael Cooper, the family’s attorney.
“Thinking about what life’s going to be like when they get back to Charleston is just a huge burden and stress right now. They want to focus on their son and the rehab they’re doing in North Carolina,” he said.
Tyreik had been living in a second-floor apartment in North Charleston, Cooper said. Concerned residents are trying to locate a ground-floor unit for the family to help ease the transition when he returns home, he said.
“His parents are dealing with a lot in Charleston, but they don’t want to leave him up there alone,” Cooper said. “They are relying on that community support so that they can focus on making sure Tyreik remains in good spirits.”
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.