TAMPA — Though she's only 3, Latavia Ash knows she was shot by a man with a gun. She knows that's why her leg hurts.
She's afraid to return home, her mother said Wednesday, as the child recovered in a hospital.
The bullet was so small, the entry wound so unnoticeable, at first no one knew it was there.
Witnesses thought the toddler had fallen during the chaos of Monday's shooting at North Boulevard Homes, where a gunman chased his target and fired, even as children played outside. Authorities whisked Latavia to a Tampa hospital as a precaution.
Then the doctor summoned the girl's mother. He had knee X-rays. A small dot showed up in them. A bullet.
"I was freaking out and crying," said her mother, Lashaun Kinlock.
The bullet had entered through the back of the girl's right leg and stopped at the inside of her knee cap. It fractured the joint, said Kinlock, 30.
A surgeon removed the bullet early Tuesday.
Latavia should be able to walk and run again, but she'll need physical therapy.
For now, the toddler cries and pleads "No! No! No!" when anyone touches her leg.
"When she picks her leg up," Kinlock said, "it really hurts."
Otherwise, Latavia's spirits are good. She plays with a new teddy bear and a coloring book the nurses gave her. She asks to see her friends and likes it when hospital workers stop by.
The first grin came when an employee played peek-a-boo Wednesday, Kinlock said.
"That's the biggest smile I've seen," Kinlock said. "She asked him to give her a high-five: 'up high, down low, too slow.' "
Kinlock is tired. It's tough sleeping in the hospital. But she's also afraid to go home because the shooter hasn't been caught.
Police say they're following leads. On Wednesday they got a tip that Mario Williams — the 28-year-old man they say drove the getaway car — was at the Extended Stay, at 1805 N Westshore Blvd.
They arrested Williams in room 205. He was charged with attempted second-degree murder and aggravated battery.
Meanwhile, authorities thought they spotted the alleged gunman, identified as Robert Lee Fletcher, near Cypress Street and Manhattan Avenue. A man who matched his description fled on a bike when he saw police.
Kinlock doesn't plan to let Latavia play outside anymore. The mother said she's on a waiting list for public housing in another county and can't wait to move.
She wonders if the shooter knew he had hit a child. She thinks he must have because Latavia's screams were so loud.
Kinlock wants to ask him why he would fire a gun around kids.
"Wait 'til you get that person by themselves. That's how I feel about it," she said. "He probably wasn't raised like that. He just doesn't care."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or [email protected]