published Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Child playing in street before she was shot in the head, arrest made

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    Selbria Rhodes becomes emotional while speaking to Officer Nathan Hartwig outside of the Chattanooga Police Services Center about neighborhood friend Keoshia Ford, 13, who was shot in the head and chest two days ago. The shooting happened a block from her home Saturday evening shortly after an unrelated block party that she was hosting was shut down by police, according to Rhodes. Rhodes is a close friend with the grandmother of the shooting victim.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Neighbors say a 13-year-old Chattanooga girl was playing in the street with her cousins Saturday night shortly before a bullet struck the back of her head.

After hearing the shots, neighbor Brenda Talley said she rushed onto Bennett Avenue, where a young girl was cradling the limp frame of Keoshia Ford.

"I couldn't find her pulse ... blood was just pouring into the street," Talley said Monday. "That little girl was just holding her while all these other adults and teenagers looked on."

Keoshia remained in critical condition at Erlanger hospital after Chattanooga police say she was caught in the crossfire of a shootout that spanned several blocks in Highland Park as people in several vehicles exchanged gunfire with people on the street.

On Monday night, a 17-year-old male was arrested in connection with the shooting. The teen, whose name has not been released because he is a juvenile, was charged with attempted first-degree murder, felony reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, and unlawful possession of a firearm, according to a statement from police spokesman Officer Nathan Hartwig.

Earlier Monday, police said had one person of interest in custody and were looking for other suspects. In a Monday news conference, Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said investigators believed juveniles were involved.

"It's disgusting," he said. "It's one thing when you have gang members that are adults, that have chosen to live this lifestyle ... but when you find out that it's a child that's involved ... it's just gut-wrenching."

Police said the conflict started at a block party on 12th Street, located behind Bennett Avenue, when two cars started circling a large group that had gathered there. Someone fired a shot from one of the cars, police said, but no one was hit. One of the cars involved in the shooting then drove over to Bennett and stopped, while one of the people in the party crowd on 12th Street ran over to Bennett and shot at the stopped car, striking Ford.

But other residents on Bennett said Monday they believe the gunfire could have resulted from a fight they witnessed Friday night in the front yard of a house at 2012 Bennett Ave.

Talley, her husband, Willard; and other neighbors say a large group had gathered in the front yard of the house to watch a fight, in which an older man severely beat a young boy.

Police spokesman Officer Nathan Hartwig said Monday evening he did not have any information about the alleged fight.

Residents of nine neighborhood households on Bennett have signed a petition to try to evict Horisa D. Trotter -- who is listed as the tenant at 2012 Bennett Ave. -- and her family from the home, which is listed as part of Section 8 subsidized housing through the Chattanooga Housing Authority. The petition states that the home is an "unruly household" and that it is chronically over its allotted occupancy.

"There are always so many people in and out there, and there is always noise and fighting late into the night," said Talley. "We can't even sit on our front yard and enjoy the neighborhood 'cause there's always something going on."

According to police records, officers have responded to 14 incidents involving people associated with the address since August. The details of those incidents were not available Monday.

2012 Bennett Ave
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A woman at the home -- who said she was head of the household but refused to identify herself as Trotter -- said the eviction campaign was unfair.

"This is my house. I'm a mother of eight children ages 14 to 3," said the woman, who said she was a cousin of the wounded girl. "You're going to see cousins and siblings out here. You're not going to see me selling dope out of this door. You're going to see me flipping food on the grill in the front yard."

The home's owner is listed as John W. Holden, president of Cleveland, Tenn.-based Pioneer Credit Co. Holden did not return repeated calls for comment Monday afternoon.

The woman at the home repeatedly said she was sick of all the media attention on the shooting.

"That baby needs prayers," she said. "We all just need to be praying for her is all right now."

According to residents on both Bennett Avenue and 12th Street, the block party, which started out small, turned into a swarming crowd that police had to break up multiple times Saturday night.

Selbrea Rhodes, who was hosting the original party on 12th Street, showed up at the police department Monday morning to challenge the belief that the gunfight started at her party.

"We were all just out there grilling barbecue, trying to do something for the community," Rhodes argued. "I would never let fighting happen."

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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