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Tampa shooting claims teen who aspired to Harvard, badly injures younger brother

Aaliyah Gordon, 15, right, and Deliah Autry, 15, both sophomore basketball players at Robinson High, decorate shirts in honor of their slain teammate, Kiara Brito. Kiara would have been the team’s lone senior next year.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Aaliyah Gordon, 15, right, and Deliah Autry, 15, both sophomore basketball players at Robinson High, decorate shirts in honor of their slain teammate, Kiara Brito. Kiara would have been the team’s lone senior next year.

TAMPA — By all accounts, Kiara Brito, 16, and her brother Jeremi Brito, 13, were good kids.

Kiara worked to maintain straight A's, with aspirations of attending Harvard University. A quiet kid, Jeremi enjoyed exploring his tranquil South Tampa neighborhood on his bike.

Before dawn Sunday morning, friends and neighbors were stunned to learn the teens had been found shot at their home, at 3021 W Van Buren Drive. Kiara died there. Her brother was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was in critical condition late Sunday, police said.

The teens lived with their mother, Judy, but were the only ones home at the time of the shooting. The home appeared to have been targeted for the crime, Tampa police said, but no arrests had been announced.

Neighbors reported gunshots around 6 a.m. at the home, which sits on a dead-end street several blocks north of the entrance to MacDill Air Force Base.

"I hope they get that animal," said Alaine Oliveri, who lives next door. "Whoever did this is an animal."

Oliveri, whose daughter was friends with Kiara, said she heard what she thought was her morning newspaper being thrown at her mailbox before dawn. Later she realized it was a gunshot.

"I wish I could have seen something," Oliveri said. "It's just senseless."

Bullets appeared to have shattered the window of a school bus parked at a day care center down the street. Police confirmed that shots were fired near the center, at the corner of Van Buren and MacDill Avenue, and believe the shots were related to what happened at the house, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Authorities temporarily blocked MacDill Avenue near the day care center. Crime scene tape surrounded the entrance to the modest house where the teens were shot. No suspects had been identified late Sunday but McElroy said police had active leads.

Kiara Brito was a junior at Robinson High School and Jeremi Brito is a sixth-grader at Madison Middle School, according to Hillsborough County Schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty. Counselors will be at Robinson High and Madison Middle this morning.

"It feels fake, like we're in a dream or something," said Jesse Sheppard, 15, one of a group of Jeremi's friends who rode bikes Sunday afternoon past the crime scene. The boys heard the news through friends on Facebook.

Eli Morris, 12, knows Jeremi as a funny kid who is quiet in school and interested in dirt biking.

Though they all live in the neighborhood, none of the boys recalled hearing gunshots.

Lisa Castellanos, who lives on Adams Street just north of where the shooting happened, said she awoke before dawn to what sounded like eight gunshots, fired two at a time, in the area near MacDill and Van Buren.

"Nothing like this happens here," Castellanos said. "If you hear a siren, you're like, 'Oh, my God, what happened?' "

Oliveri said she knew both children and their mother well. The two mothers would make dinner for kids in the neighborhood and trade carpooling duties to and from school.

She knew of no problems the family had. Their mother divorced the children's father long ago, Oliveri said. Lately, the mother had been taking criminal justice classes at Hillsborough Community College.

Kiara's friends wept and embraced in the street near the teens' home Sunday.

A member of the girls basketball team, Kiara played point guard and worked this year to improve her lay-up, said coach Jessica Vitale. She had been scared of driving toward the basket, Vitale said, but spent the summer charging through pads to get over her hesitation.

"Her confidence really came in this year," Vitale said. Next year, Kiara would have been the only senior on the team.

Vitale also taught Kiara in the school's college readiness program, Advancement Via Individual Determination. Vitale said Kiara took four advanced placement classes — "a model kid."

The National Honor Society member maintained a grade point average above 4.0, Vitale said, and planned dual enrollment classes next year with Hillsborough Community College.

Kiara aimed to attend Harvard, Vitale said, where she wanted to study finance or economics, and already had landed an internship at a financial company.

On Sunday, her friends gathered to make T-shirts to wear to school. "RIP Kiara," they wrote in puff paint. "I love you."

Kiara usually made the T-shirts and the signs for them for football games and senior nights.

Her friends remembered her as the fashionista who insisted on always having her hair and nails done and wearing fancy watches. As the vegetarian who peeled meat patties off McDonald's double cheeseburgers. As the friend who queued up The Lion King's Hakuna Matata on her iPod to cheer someone up.

"She thought she was the stuff," said Maria Correa, 18, a Robinson High junior.

Kiara's friends sniffled back tears. They thought she was, too.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443. Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

Tampa shooting claims teen who aspired to Harvard, badly injures younger brother 06/05/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 6, 2011 12:33am]

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