Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Witnesses recall the smoke, screams and buildup to shooting of 8-year-old St. Petersburg girl

LARGO — Witnesses recalled screaming, bullets, gun smoke and blood from the night 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was killed, but testimony Thursday also focused on the buildup to the shooting.

It was neighborhood versus neighborhood, gang versus gang, gun versus gun. And ultimately, a firestorm of more than 50 bullets from assault rifles, one of which killed the little girl.

But it all started with a dance.

On April 4, 2009, several people mingled outside the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, where a dance had been held. Two St. Petersburg groups with a long history of animosity faced off, according to witnesses. One group was the Bethel Heights Boys, from the Citrus Grove Apartments off 16th Street. Prosecutors have said the three defendants on trial are associated with this group — Dondre Davis, Stephen Cortez Harper and Duong Dai Nguyen.

The other group was 8-Hype, centered in the Harbordale neighborhood.

The two groups talked some trash to each other outside the dance. And one witness, Gregory Wright, who back then was a Bethel Heights Boy, said he remembers a man named Markeath "Monster" Fielder strutting between the two groups, with a hand thrust into his pocket, as though he had a gun. Wright said Fielder was from 8-Hype.

At some point outside of the Uhuru House, shots were fired, according to Wright and Paris' cousin, Richard Junior. Wright said he thought it was Fielder who fired in their direction, but he couldn't know for sure. Junior testified that he wasn't sure who fired the gun.

Prosecutors say the three defendants associated with Bethel Heights, plus one other man who already has pleaded guilty, shot up Paris' house to get back at Fielder — the man from outside the dance. A bullet hit the girl instead.

Wright testified that early on April 5, 2009, not too long after the incident outside the Uhuru House, he saw four of his Bethel Heights-associated friends — Davis, Harper, Nguyen and Mario Lewis Walls — go into the Citrus Grove Apartments near where Harper stayed.

They came out with two or three big guns, Wright said. The four piled into a red Ford Focus with a Tweety Bird sticker on it and drove away. Shortly after, he heard gunfire. Shortly after that, the four came back in the car and went back into the complex with the guns, Wright said.

Wright is 24, works at a meat market, and no longer lives in the Bethel Heights area. He is called "TV Head," a nickname he has had so long he doesn't remember why. He spoke slowly, often giving one-word answers to sentences, and stumbled over simple questions. He complained that an attorney was confusing him.

Because of his seeming confusion, Davis' attorney, Edward Panzica asked him: "You don't have a clear memory of anything that night do you?"

Wright stared, paused for a long time, and did not answer.

In other testimony, Paris' aunt Shenita Williams, who was raising the girl, said that when the shooting broke out, "I thought it was firecrackers."

Inside, "the house was smoking … everyone was screaming. I knew something was wrong."

She came out of her bedroom into a hallway, but "it was so much smoke, you couldn't see anything, you just heard the loud noise of the guns."

And then her niece passed her, dressed in her nightclothes, clutching a security blanket. "I saw her eyes go up and then she collapsed," Williams said.

A neighbor of Paris' family, Alyce Smith, heard the gunfire and rushed outside her house.

"I saw a red car," she said. She went into the house and soon started giving Paris CPR.

"I gave her two breaths and I started on the third breath," Smith said, "She said 'huuuu.' "

She cried as she described how Paris stopped breathing.

"There wasn't anything else I could do," she said.

Witnesses recall the smoke, screams and buildup to shooting of 8-year-old St. Petersburg girl 11/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2011 12:11am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Who's behind the mysterious butt graffiti all over St. Petersburg?

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first butts, perhaps, appeared in April on some steps behind the Sundial shopping plaza.

    A photo of the butt graffiti that has been cropping up around St. Petersburg in the past several months. [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | STAFF]
  2. During the most expensive mayoral election ever, St. Petersburg City Council wants to limit PAC money

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — In front of a large group of red-shirted campaign finance reform supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday started the ball rolling on an ordinance that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

    A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections
  3. Minority business accelerator launch by Tampa chamber to aid black, Hispanic businesses

    Business

    A "minority business accelerator" program was launched Thursday by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce geared toward helping black and Hispanic business owners identify and overcome barriers to grow their companies. The accelerator, known as MBA, will provide participants with business tools to cultivate opportunities …

    Bemetra Simmons is a senior private banker at Wells Fargo, The Private Bank. She is also chair of the new minority business accelerator program for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. [Photo, LinkedIn]
  4. Peter Budaj loves 'vibe' with Lightning

    Blogs

    Two years ago, nobody was willing to give Peter Budaj a shot, the veteran goalie wondering if he'd ever play in the NHL again.

    Peter Budaj signed a two-year extension with the Lightning, worth $1.025 million per year.
  5. A test the Rays haven't passed

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — I have no idea what to think about the Rays. Not a clue.

    Tampa Bay Rays players celebrate their 8-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.