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Drive-by victim, 8, was a playful, curious little dynamo

Shamiyah Watson, 8, left, and Lashay Green, 10, right, attend a vigil for schoolmate Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, 8, who was killed early Sunday morning in St. Petersburg.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Shamiyah Watson, 8, left, and Lashay Green, 10, right, attend a vigil for schoolmate Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, 8, who was killed early Sunday morning in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — A curious little girl who loved reading mystery books and uncovering clues got out of bed early Sunday morning to see what was wrong.

She scurried across the room, into a barrage of more than 50 bullets bursting through her house.

Three bullets went into her back, police said.

Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, a child who had no problems with anybody, died.

She was 8.

Her classmates at Imagine Charter School were absorbing the news Monday, making paper cards for their fallen friend. They thought about her. They drew hearts and rainbows and page-corner suns with stick beams.

They wrote messages.

I'm so very sorry, I hope you feel so much better. Stay strong.

Paris will be my membory. Paris was my best friend.

Dear Paris family, I hope you feel better about what happened to your daughter.

Paris lived with her aunt, Shenita Joseph, in a tiny tan block home on Preston Avenue in Bartlett Park. She slept on an enclosed porch, police said.

Less than a decade into life, she had been through a lot.

Paris's father, Robert Hamilton, was away most of the time with the military, family said. Her mother, Robin Whitehead, died in 2006 after taking a fall, her family told police at the time. Whitehead had served in the Air Force in the Gulf War and drank to cope with trauma and nerves, according to a police report.

Paris talked about her mom sometimes. She said she missed her. She thought she was in heaven.

Paris loved to sit on her bed and paint her fingernails pink and blue with her babysitter, Syria Israel. They ate Skittles and ice cream and hot sausages.

"She always asked me if I was coming back," said Israel, 17.

Paris always wanted to play. After school, she would wait outside the house next door for neighbor Sharon Perkins' two young nephews to get home.

"She came here every day," said Perkins, 30. "Every single day. She'd come and ask, 'Where they at?' I'd say they come home at 4. And then she'd pace in front of the house until they came home."

She often brought over her own handheld Hannah Montana game. She loved princesses, and told everyone to call her "Princess Paris."

She had the tiny frame of someone younger and the brash spunk of someone older.

"She was headstrong and extremely talkative," said her aunt, Shenita Joseph.

Paris was good at basketball and shot hoops with the boys. She knew how to bounce a soccer ball on her knees like a pro. When kids were mean, she never retaliated.

Once, when a child threw a punch, Paris looked at her, puzzled. "Why are you hitting me?" she said.

She gave her school uniform pizazz with hair clips and lots of different shoes. Sometimes, she wore a shiny pink jacket. On a recent school field day, she danced the entire time.

"She was amazing," said Imagine parent and volunteer Darlene Smyrski. "Having a blast. She was an amazing presence in that class. Always cheerful."

An accomplished student, Paris had read 1,000 pages in the past two weeks during a school book-a-thon — one of only 30 students in the school to do it.

"She was just devouring the books," said principal Dawn Wilson. "She was so proud of herself. She'd check in with a teacher. She'd say, 'Here's what the plot is. This is about …' "

She was going to have lunch with her principal this week as a reward.

Times researched Carolyn Edds and staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

Drive-by victim, 8, was a playful, curious little dynamo 04/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 12:57pm]
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