Derotha Jones grew uncomfortable Saturday afternoon as tears began to build.
The Charleston grandmother doesn't like to cry. She'd much rather stay strong, she said, for the sake of her family.
But a gun battle that sent a bullet into her 5-year-old grandson's back Friday night, steps away from her front door, had her shaken to the core.
“He didn't even cry,” Jones said, her voice falling to a whisper. “He said, 'Granny, please help me. Please hold me.”
The boy, whom Jones identified as Tyreik Gadsden, of North Charleston, was visiting with his grandmother Friday night at her home at the Wraggborough Homes housing project at the intersection of Mary and America streets on Charleston's East Side.
The pair walked out of the woman's home shortly before 9 p.m., having planned to spend the night with another relative who was preparing for a birthday party scheduled for the following day, Jones said.
They only made it a few steps before two men ran past them from around a corner in an apparent shootout, Jones said.
“We walked into a gunfight. By the time I thought to shield my grandson, he was already hit. ... I seen blood in his shirt and a bullet wound in his (expletive) back. I just started yelling, 'Somebody done shot my grandson,'” she said.
The child was seriously injured in the incident, Charleston police said.
He survived two surgeries at Medical University Hospital, Jones said, including doctors patching fluid that was leaking from his spine.
A second person, a 20-year-old man, also took a bullet to his left leg, police said. That person has since been released from the hospital.
Police cordoned off a section of the community's Wraggborough Homes housing project with yellow crime scene tape and combed the area well into the night. A suspect, however, has not been identified.
Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis confirmed that Jones reported seeing two men run from the scene, but said investigators are only searching for one gunman.
In a statement, Police Chief Greg Mullen referred to the shooting as “another senseless tragedy with an innocent victim.”
“We need all members of the community to assist us in quickly locating this violent criminal, who seriously injured a 5-year-old child,” he said. “This act clearly demonstrates their lack of regard for the safety of this child.”
The chief said it is important to identify and apprehend the shooter quickly, before he or she can harm someone else. “Additional patrol officers and detectives are working this case to bring it to a quick resolution,” Mullen said.
Jones said she could only hope that a surveillance camera that keeps watch over the community's grounds caught a glimpse of the shooters. She expressed frustration, however, that officers who patrol the area weren't able to stop the men before they reached her doorstep.
“Are we not safe here,” she asked, her gaze fixed on a pair of officers in the distance. “Are we not safe in the projects?”
Anyone with information about the case can call the lead detective, Richard Holmes, at 607-6787, or call Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.
Tipsters can also text information to Crime Stoppers at 274637, starting the message with TIPCSL.
David MacDougall contributed to this report.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier versions of this story had an incorrect spelling of Tyreik Gadsden's name.