Tears dripped down faces as rain fell outside Victory Christian Church on Quail Street in Albany Friday night. The church was filled with mourners who came to celebrate the life of Kathina Thomas, the young girl gunned down in Albany’s West Hill neighborhood last year.
Thomas’ mother, Shondell McCallister, sobbed and yelled, “Kathina!” over and over as a slide show played.
Kathina’s brother nervously read a poem he wrote for his sister to the large crowd.
There were five other speakers in addition to singers and a group of young dancers who performed in honor of Kathina and her family.
The speakers, including Rev. Charles Muller and Albany County Legislator Norma Chapman, consoled McCallister, assuring her that everyone would stand behind her and that Kathina’s death would hopefully be the last of its kind.
Kathina was just 10 when she was struck in the back by a stray bullet while playing on the front steps of her apartment at 8:20 p.m. on May 29, 2008. Her mother ran to her side after hearing her scream, “Mommy! I’ve been hit!”
She died on the sidewalk.
Sixteen-year-old Jermayne Timmons was convicted of firing the deadly shot. In a written statement to police he said he was carrying a gun he shared with friends on the night of the killing. He said he saw rival teens coming down the street and fired when he thought he was in danger.
In January, Timmons was convicted of second-degree murder. Timmons was charged as an adult and in March was sentenced to serve a maximum of 15 years to life in prison.
As an immigrant girl living in a rough neighborhood — killed accidentally by a troubled teen who took to the street life — Kathina has become the rallying point of the city’s campaign against gun violence.
Now, a year later, many in the neighborhood ask if anything has really changed in West Hill.
Residents don’t believe so. They complain that houses are still run down, youths roam the streets aimlessly, and drug dealers can be found on nearly every corner. Residents of West Hill claim that enthusiasm for change in the area seems to have fizzled out as quickly as it was sparked.
“Some people are scared but everyone has their own lives. We work. We’re busy,” said a woman who lives on the street where Kathina was killed; she did not wish to be identified.
Muller, however, thinks a positive change is coming, noting that shootings have decreased this year. He spoke of youth groups, and counseling for school children and those in prison to raise awareness of how gun violence is a plague on the community.
At the service, family, friends and neighbors of McCallister and her daughter came together with local activists and officials to remind everyone that even though Kathina is gone, her death will not be in vain.
“Today we’re here to celebrate Kathina’s life,” Chapman said.
Muller added, “Kathina’s death is just one incident of gun violence, but one is too many. We will all work together to make Albany a better place.”