On a rutted street in Oaks Mobile Home Park, just outside the dwelling where an 8-year-old girl lived, a big sign says, “Caution. Children at play. Speed limit 5 mph.”
But someone showed no caution early Tuesday morning, firing bullets that pierced the thin skins of the old mobile homes, many occupied by small children, with strollers and brightly painted little bikes parked outside. One bullet struck the 8-year-old girl in the head as she slept, killing her instantly, Wichita police said. Next door, a bullet grazed a 46-year-old woman in the head as she watched a movie in her living room with her husband and daughter.
Police said the gunfire erupted during an altercation between a group of men and a man in a stolen car.
“It’s unbelievable” that someone would open fire in the middle of a neighborhood, one resident said Tuesday afternoon. “And it was all over a car. That little girl lost her life over a car,” she said, asking not to be named for her privacy and security.
A man driving a stolen car got into an argument shortly after 3 a.m. with four men in an apartment parking lot in the 3000 block of South Broadway, police Lt. Todd Ojile said. As the man drove off, one of the four men pulled out a gun and began firing.
Wichita police made an arrest in the case Tuesday evening, Lt. Doug Nolte said. Sedgwick County Jail records show Zachary Gaston, 24, was booked shortly after 7 p.m. on suspicion of felony murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and shooting at an occupied dwelling.
Early Tuesday, the gunman fired the first volley from the parking lot, Ojile said, then ran after the car into the mobile home park next door and fired more shots.
At the girl’s home, police found a bullet hole in an outside wall as they were checking the neighborhood and knocked on the front door.
They pointed out the bullet hole, Ojile said.
“They went back inside and found the child,” he said.
“There are no words to describe finding an 8-year-old asleep in her bed with a gunshot wound.”
Her 4-year-old sister and 6-year-old brother were asleep and unharmed in the same bed.
As officers headed to the scene, Ojile said, they were informed that the four men all ran into the same apartment or hotel room next to the parking lot where the first shots were fired.
All four men were taken in for questioning, and Ojile said police think one of them is the shooter. Nolte said late Tuesday he was unable to provide information on the other three men police interviewed.
Police weren’t sure whether the man in the car fired shots as well.
“We’re still investigating that,” Ojile said.
Authorities were still looking for the stolen car, a black Ford Focus with the Kansas license plate 511 EVP. The car may have bullet holes in it, Ojile said. Anyone who has information about the incident or the missing man should call the homicide section at 316-268-4181 or Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111.
Steven Ludlow heard gunfire and through an open front door saw a black car take off past the mobile home where he was staying. Just across the road from him, maybe 10 yards away, he saw a man holding what looked like a .45-caliber handgun, with his arms extended, firing toward the black car while standing behind another vehicle.
Ludlow, 36, counted eight shots – an initial three shots, then another succession closer together.
The gunman was wearing a white ball cap, a T-shirt with black stripes and blue pants. He then ran to the north between two mobile homes across the road from Ludlow. Ludlow called 911 and reported it.
Next door, Dusten McDonough was watching the movie “Tremors” with his wife, Kimberly McDonough. He heard a bang and yelled, “Get down! Get down!”
A bullet grazed her in the head, leaving a wound that required 12 staples.
Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, McDonough pointed to a broken window in the front of their home where a bullet apparently entered. “I was sitting right in back of where that hole was,” he said. A blood-stained blue towel, used to wrap his wife’s head, still lay across a railing outside.
Another neighbor, Charles Peters, said he heard “pop, pop, pop” and later heard a woman across from him saying something like her “baby was gone.” The woman paced back and forth.
In the daylight Tuesday, Peters could see the girl’s purple and pink bike, its kick stand down, apparently where she left it. He once helped her raise the bike seat.
Danielle Wilborn, who lives in one of the bullet-stricken homes next to the girl, said, “It’s really sad that an 8-year-old girl got killed.”
She saw the girl’s mother’s grief after the shooting.
“The lady was out screaming and punched the police car because of her daughter.”
Speaking of the girl, Wilborn said, “She was just a happy little girl. She just rode her bike with the others.”
Police marked an apparent bullet hole at the girl’s home with the number 3.
The girl was a third-grader at Enterprise Elementary. She attended White Elementary last school year. The school district sent members of the crisis response team to both schools Tuesday morning.
According to neighbors, the girl had lived at the mobile home park since the beginning of the year.
Kimberly McDonough was taken to a hospital and released. Tuesday afternoon, she said she had been watching a movie when she heard a “poof” sound and felt “blood rolling down my face.” She ran to her bathroom. A neighbor wrapped a towel around her head and had her sit down outside.
When she came home from the hospital, she learned that the girl next door had been killed by the gunfire. “That is awful,” McDonough said as she rested with a bandage around her head. “My head hurts so bad, still.”
“I hope the police find these people. … When you kill an innocent child,” she said, her voice trailing off.
She had just moved into the trailer home in July. “I’m thankful to be alive. I really do send my blessing out to that little girl who died and her mother.”
Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias and Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle.