Schenectady County

Albany girl’s killing stuns residents

As police sought the killer of a 10-year-old girl gunned down in front of her West Hill home, friend
John Hooks and his daughter, 14-month-old Emeri, stop at 445 First St. in Albany, the home of Kathina Thomas, to pay respect at a memorial set up for the 10-year-old shooting victim.
John Hooks and his daughter, 14-month-old Emeri, stop at 445 First St. in Albany, the home of Kathina Thomas, to pay respect at a memorial set up for the 10-year-old shooting victim.

As police sought the killer of a 10-year-old girl gunned down in front of her West Hill home, friends, family and neighbors grieved for Kathina Thomas and demanded action from authorities to make the streets safer.

The girl was shot in the back about 8:20 p.m. Thursday. A law-enforcement source with knowledge of the case said she was hit by a .45-caliber bullet.

While her killer has not been identified, some observers linked the crime to an upsurge in youth violence.

At midday Friday, the victim’s incompletely dried blood still glistened in the bright sunshine on the sidewalk in front of her home at 445 First St., where stuffed animals, balloons, candles and a poem had been left on the front steps. Thomas was described as a good student who enjoyed going to church, a happy child who had recently immigrated with her mother from the South American country of Guyana.

Her mother was beside herself with grief.

“My daughter’s dead! I can’t believe she’s dead like that!” sobbed Shondell McCallister outside her apartment Friday morning. “Why did they shoot my daughter? Why not me?

“Why would they do something like this to my daughter? Where is justice?” The Associated Press quoted McCallister as saying.

Albany public safety spokesman Detective James Miller said there was no indication that the child had been targeted by the killer. Police believe she was hit by a stray bullet fired for unknown reasons and are following leads. Anyone with any information, whether or not they wish to remain anonymous, is asked to call Albany police detectives.

The Albany School District released a statement saying Thomas had attended Sheridan Preparatory Academy since the end of the 2006-07 school year, when she moved to Albany with her family from Guyana. She was active in the school’s chorus and also participated in a YMCA after-school program at the school.

Principal Cecily Wilson said Thomas was a good student and a good friend to her peers.

“The thing that comes to mind for me is she just always had a bright smile on,” Wilson said. “She got along very well with her classmates and the other students in fourth grade. She developed very good friendships here. She was a ‘girl’s girl.’ Giggly when they were playing outside, and always ready with that smile.”

Thomas’ 18-year-old brother, George Yhap, said he was with their mother Thursday night at Albany Medical Center Hospital when they were told that the child was dead.

“I feel like I’m in a different world [from Guyana],” he said. “You don’t even know your neighbors here.”

Essence Brewington, 13, who lives a few houses west of the shooting scene, said, “She was a nice little girl.” Thomas used to spend time at the J.C. Club, Brewington said, pointing up the block to the Christian-run community kitchen on the corner of Quail Street and First.

Many of the two-story properties on that block are boarded up and vacant.

Roxanne Fraser said Thomas was with her Wednesday night, attending a women’s service at Blessed Hope Worship Center on Central Avenue. Thomas was “happy, excited in church. She really likes church,” said Fraser, who had known the family in Guyana as well as in Albany.

Fraser said she spent Thursday night with the distraught McCallister, who was talking about going back to Guyana with her three surviving children. Thomas’ father still lives in that country, Fraser said.

“Shondell was very careful with her daughter,” Fraser said.

Despite the risks of violence, Fraser said, she intends to stay with her own 6-year-old daughter in the United States, citing the better educational opportunities here.

Albany County Legislator Norma Chapman, a Democrat who lives at 404 First St., said the killing may have been a result of the ongoing feud between young people from Albany’s South End and those in the Arbor Hill/West Hill area. “I understand they were just randomly shooting,” she said.

The Rev. John Miller, chairman of a group preparing a report with recommendations for the city on how to control gun violence, said he heard there was one group of kids running and another on bicycles.

But James Miller, the police spokesman, could not confirm any version of how the shooting happened.

Chapman, John Miller and others said the community needs to come together to help solve its problems, and to encourage people to give police information about crimes.

“We’ve been fighting this problem for years,” said Chapman. “People are afraid to come out and speak.”

John Miller said it’s partly fear, partly a perverse code of silence that leaves police unable to solve crimes. “We have a huge problem regarding people who won’t share information,” John Miller said.

James Miller said that has been a problem in the past, but he did not report it as being a factor in this case. Police are hoping the shock of the death of the young girl will result in witnesses cooperating, he said.

Thomas was Albany’s sixth homicide victim this year. John Miller said it has been a few years since there was an equivalent case of an innocent bystander being killed.

Friends and neighbors had various suggestions for making the neighborhood safer, ranging from banning guns to installing surveillance cameras and deploying more police.

Ironically, Thursday night marked the start of Operation Impact in Albany, a street crime crackdown that puts state troopers into some of New York’s high-crime neighborhoods to help local police. The program targets gang members, drug dealers and people wanted on old warrants.

James Miller said there are currently eight troopers in the city’s rotation, with about four or five patrolling the city every night.

Herman Johnson, of 410 First St., who recently retired from the Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital, said he favors cameras, and Terry McLin agreed.

“This place has been shooting up since I bought a house here” in 2000, Johnson said. “One of my tenants got shot in the foot.” He said First Street has the worst crime in the neighborhood.

Thomas lived on First between North Lake Avenue and Quail Street, which is only four blocks north of the WAMC public radio buildings on Central Avenue.

Johnson, like John Miller, had heard bike-riding kids were involved in Thomas’ death and saw a problem with people not speaking to police. “This is like the Wild, Wild West,” he said.

Criminals, Johnson said, “will come after you” if you cooperate with police. “We don’t have no justice. You’re just on your own.”

Thomas’ next-door neighbor, Wolsey Blackman, who emigrated from Guyana 20 years ago, said, “The kid never did no one nothing. So why? Why being shot to death?”

Blackman said, “They need to do something about this area. The community needs to get together.” He said he doubts drugs or gangs are connected to the shooting but thinks it was young people.

Categories: Schenectady County

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