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Before the shooting started, a warning that 8-year-old Paris was in danger

Paris Whitehead-Hamilton’s death April 6 in her home shocked St. Petersburg. Here, children attend a vigil at the house.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Paris Whitehead-Hamilton’s death April 6 in her home shocked St. Petersburg. Here, children attend a vigil at the house.

ST. PETERSBURG — Paris Whitehead-Hamilton died at the age of 8 in a war zone — her own home.

She was killed April 5 when a gang raked her house with gunfire meant for a rival. More than 50 shell casings were found. It only took one bullet to kill Paris.

Her death shocked the city.

Here's another shock: Some inside her home may have feared that Paris was in danger before the shooting started, according to court records.

Police believed Paris was the innocent victim of a gang rivalry that exploded just hours before her death.

One man who lived in the girl's home is accused of being a part of that feud — and may have realized that retaliation was imminent.

He knew Paris slept in the front of the house, by the street, in a window-lined bedroom.

And according to some reports, he warned others in the house to move the girl away from danger.

• • •

Paris' mother died years ago. Her father was serving overseas with the military. It fell to her aunt, Shenita Joseph, 42, to care for the girl.

They lived together in the house at 771 Preston Ave. S, but they did not live alone. Seven other people were staying with them the night of the shooting, police said.

Two people in the home had connections to the brewing gang feud between Bethel Heights and 8 Hype.

Joseph's son, Richard Lamar Junior, lived with his mother and Paris. He told police he was jumped by some Bethel Heights Boys before the murder.

One of his alleged attackers was later arrested in Paris' death.

Also staying in the house was Markeath "Monster'' Fielder, a man Junior called his "blood brother."

Fielder, authorities said, belonged to a local gang called the 8 Hype Boys and was involved in a gang shooting the day before Paris' death. They accused him of shooting at a Bethel Heights member at a party at Uhuru House on 18th Avenue S.

Later in the day, the two gangs continued to exchange gunfire on city streets, eyewitnesses said.

No one was hurt — until the bullets ended up on Paris' doorstep.

• • •

Junior accompanied Fielder to the Uhuru party, but returned home early. Then he got a call from Fielder.

His girlfriend, Da-Niedre Tigg, who was in the house, described the call in an interview with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

"(Fielder said) to move Paris to a different room," Tigg said, "because somebody had come and shot up wherever (Fielder) was at."

"Did somebody move Paris?" Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger asked the witness.

"No," Tigg said. Junior "started to, but he didn't."

Fielder arrived at the home soon after the call.

About 30 to 45 minutes later, Tigg said, the shooting started. Everyone took cover on the floor.

At first, Junior told investigators he did heed Fielder's warning, according to a report. He said he moved Paris to a room in the back, but somehow she ended up in the front of the house again.

"It makes sense now," Junior told police right after the attack. "That is why (Fielder) told me to move (Paris) into another bedroom."

Days later, in another interview, a St. Petersburg detective prodded Junior to tell the story again.

"You made that comment to me, it made sense, when (Fielder) had called you to move Paris," said Detective Brian Taylor. "Did he tell you something more? Did he say he got into any kind of trouble."

"He didn't tell me nothing," Junior said. "All he told me was move Paris, you know, and hug her, that's all he said."

"He called you on the phone and told you to move Paris?" the detective said.

"Yeah," Junior said. "That was the end of that discussion."

• • •

Authorities are sure the warning never reached Paris' aunt, Shenita Joseph, who was also in the house.

"I don't think she had any clue," said Ripplinger, the prosecutor.

Ripplinger cautioned that there is no evidence that the suspects made any clear threats. Nor is there any evidence that anyone inside the house knew for certain that they would be attacked that night.

But retaliatory shootings are all too common, the prosecutor said. And everyone knew Fielder was staying in Paris' home with his friend, Junior.

Would it have been that hard, as 8 Hype's conflict with Bethel Heights escalated, for Fielder to surmise that there would be some kind of retaliation?

And what about Fielder? Did he do anything to help protect Paris or anyone else in the house?

Fielder, court records show, told police a completely different story.

He said there were no fights or trouble at the Uhuru House party. He said he smoked a cigar with Junior outside the Preston Avenue house, then fell asleep waiting for his brother to pick him up. Then the shooting woke him up.

• • •

Four teens were captured in connection with the girl's murder: Dondre Davis, Stephen Cortez Harper, Duong Dai Nguyen and Mario Lewis Walls.

All are 19. Witnesses reported seeing them at some of the shootings that led up to the attack on Paris' home.

Police seized a cache of weapons from Harper's apartment complex, including semiautomatic AR-15 rifles similar to those used to shoot up Paris' home.

Davis, Harper and Walls were all indicted for murder. All belong to Bethel Heights, police said. All have pleaded not guilty.

Nguyen hasn't been charged but remains a suspect, authorities said. He belongs to Asian Pride, a criminal gang active in north Pinellas County, authorities said.

Charges against Fielder in the Uhuru House shooting were dropped when the witness changed his story.

Prosecutors and investigators continue to build their case in Paris' death.

Before the shooting started, a warning that 8-year-old Paris was in danger 10/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 11:29pm]
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