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Police: 6-year-old girl with spina bifida shot after bullet travels through intended victim

Zhelma Washington, 45, the grandmother of Zakayla Newsome, wipes away tears along with Zakayla’s cousin Michelle Stewart, 11, after the shooting.
Zhelma Washington, 45, the grandmother of Zakayla Newsome, wipes away tears along with Zakayla’s cousin Michelle Stewart, 11, after the shooting.
Published Mar. 25, 2014

TAMPA — A felon with a gun shot into a car with children early Monday, police say.

James Brookins' bullet pierced his 23-year-old target, according to Tampa police. Then it grazed the arm of Zakayla Newsome, a 6-year-old with spina bifida.

Brookins' 5-month-old son was nearby, in the back seat.

"You don't have any respect for the law. You don't have any respect for life," Zakayla's grandmother, Zhelma Washington, 45, said later. "Your son could have been killed."

Zakayla, who has undergone about two dozen surgeries in her young life, was back in the hospital Monday.

She was alert, talking and in good spirits, her family said Monday afternoon. Her uncle, 23-year-old Albert Brown, was faring worse. He was shot in the chest, police say. Washington says the bullet hit his lung.

Still, police say he is expected to survive.

Meanwhile, Brookins, 43, who sometimes uses the alias Patrick Smith, was booked into jail on an attempted murder charge.

Police say the shooting happened about 2:30 a.m. during an argument between Brookins and Nakendra Newsome outside Brookins' apartment at 4422 N Hale Ave.

Newsome, who is Zakayla's mother, shares a son with Brookins — 5-month-old Jace, who was asleep in the back seat of the car.

Brown of Tampa happened to be along for the trip. At some point during the argument, he confronted Brookins. When he got back into the car, police say, Brookins approached Brown and shot him in the upper back.

The bullet traveled through him and then hit Zakayla in the arm.

Nakendra Newsome drove everyone to the hospital, and police soon found Brookins hiding under a vehicle just south of his apartment.

In addition to attempted murder, he faces one count of aggravated battery with great bodily harm. He was being held Monday without bail. He has previously been arrested in Florida on charges of cocaine possession, destroying evidence, DUI, aggravated assault and battery, state records show.

Shortly after the shooting, Zhelma Washington and her husband, Darcy Washington, 33, visited Zakayla and Brown in the hospital.

The little Riverview girl got sassy with Darcy Washington, whom she calls "Daddy," asking him what took him so long. Then she proudly announced to everyone, "That's my Daddy."

To Zhelma Washington, she said she wanted her bandages off.

The Washingtons already considered Zakayla an inspiration. She has so much hardware in her body and has spent months at a time in the hospital, yet she is a cheerful child and a favorite at her school, which offers specialized care for her with help from Medicaid.

Zakayla has spina bifida, a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings. She has a tracheal tube to help her breathe and spends most of her time in a wheelchair, her grandmother said.

At home, she loves singing and watching Madea movies and playing with her cousins Michelle and Sunshine.

"I was just glad to see her smiling," Darcy Washington said about his visit Monday. "She wasn't crying or anything."

"She's a little trouper," Zhelma Washington said.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.