Sunday, October 4, 2009

"She's going to get a crown in heaven."

Mortally wounded aunt still saves her nephew, 8: Carries boy to safety as bullets fly in Brooklyn
Re-printed from an article by Michael Daly
New York Daily News: Sunday, July 12th 2009

Jeselle Page was shot by a stray bullet in Brooklyn public housing and killed.When the gunshots erupted, the man on another bench dove for cover, but Jesselle Page leapt up to protect her 8-year-old grandnephew.

The youngster cast aside the scooter he had been riding in the playground filled with two dozen kids on Friday afternoon. He ran across the playground toward his 44-year-old great-aunt as she ran toward him.

Page took little R.J. in her arms and was turning toward her building when she was hit in the right upper chest by a stray bullet, one in a flurry of shots fired in a dispute at the edge of a nearby parking lot.

This most innocent of bystanders stayed on her feet and continued with the youngster toward 140 Moore St. in the Bushwick/Hyland Houses. She was determined to get him to safety even as her life's blood spattered onto the pavement, brilliant red in the sunshine.

On she went, 10 strides and another 10 and another 10 and another, propelled by a love that was only stronger because she was unable to have children of her own.

She was an absolutely magnificent figure amidst the total horror that so suddenly invaded a perfect summer afternoon.

Only when she reached the lobby and she knew the child was safe did she let go of him and stagger to the left. She slumped against the tiled wall and collapsed to the floor.

The red spatters marked a 40-stride trial of total devotion from where she was hit to where she now lay blank-eyed, more blood pouring from her mouth.

Still more blood covered little R.J., who ran in small, frantic circles, looking at his dying aunt, turning away, coming around and seeing her again and turning away again. His raised hands shook as he cried out:

"Somebody help my aunt! Somebody help my aunt!"

Several grownups brushed past him before a 26-year-old woman known as Nana came up. She put an arm around him as if he were her own child and tried to lead him away. He did not want to leave his great-aunt.

"You can't stand here and look at her like that," Nana recalls telling him. "It's not good for you. I'm going to get somebody to help her."

Several cops ran up, having been close enough to grab a suspected gunman and recover a handgun. They ordered everyone to clear away, including Nana and R.J.

"But he's not my child," Nana said.

The cops repeated the order and Nana complied. Another woman offered use of her cell phone and R.J. rattled off phone contacts.

"He's a little boy, but he knew a lot of numbers," Nana later said.

R.J. first tried to reach his mother, 26-year-old Randi Daniel, who happened to be on the way to pick him up. She was still on an underground stretch of the J train and the call went to her voicemail.

"Auntie dead!" the youngster cried out by way of a message.

The woman who lent him the phone took it and left a message for the mother to call. Paramedics arrived and rushed Page to Woodhull Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

The police took R.J. to the 90th Precinct station house. R.J. was exhibiting the surprising calm that can accompany shock when his mother arrived. She sat and he climbed into her lap.

"The officer said, 'Did you see anything? Did you hear anything?'"the mother recalled. " said he heard guns. 'Bang! Bang!'"

Mother and son then returned to the home of the great-aunt he had so loved to visit.

"For him it was better than summer camp," the mother recalled.

All that had changed as they now gained entry through the crime scene tape and passed the spot where Page had died.

"He said, 'I don't want to come back here,'" Daniel later reported.

Yesterday, R.J. was off with his father. His mother was at the great-aunt's apartment. Page's 47 year-old brother, Kevin Fountain, was there and recounted how she spent four years getting this first home of her own. She had moved in just six months ago.

"This may not seem like much to you, but this is what she fought for," the brother said. "This was a big deal for her. Icing on the cake."

Terrance Villanueva is accused of accidentally shooting and killing an innocent woman at a public housing complex.In the evening, the family learned police had made an arrest, charging 24-year-old Terrance Villanueva with murder and weapon possession. He is a known troublemaker, said to have once beat up another young man, stolen his shoes and gone about wearing them.

"I've seen him around," Daniel noted. "He had a reputation."

A gun now seemed to have made a bully into a killer.

"The fact that he was caught so quickly is a relief," she said.

Daniel reported that her son had spent the day going to a concert and a swimming pool.

"I spoke to him and he was upset because the pool was too cold," she said. "He's trying to live a normal life."

He remained a little boy who had witnessed what no little boy should see.

"We're finding out that he's seen and taken in a lot more than we thought he did," she said. Down in the lobby, somebody had put up a piece of notebook paper reading "Her Name is Jesselle Page" along with a snapshot of her smiling at an outdoor grill. Seven prayer candles flickered where she died.

The trail of blood had been mopped up, but to walk those 40 strides was to marvel at the courage and devotion this great-aunt showed at the sound of gunfire on a perfect summer afternoon.

"She's going to get a crown in heaven," her brother said.

New York Daily News, Mortally wounded aunt still saves her nephew, 8