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Her 5-year-old son slain in a brazen shooting Tuesday morning, Christina Banks rocked back and forth, her thumb pushing picture after picture of him across the screen of her phone.
"I want my baby," she cried Tuesday evening, sitting on the front lawn of the north Minneapolis house where her son, Nizzel George, was shot hours before. "They took my hero," said Banks, 20. "They took my 5-year-old hero. Are they happy now?"
Several bullets pierced the living room wall of the house in the 4500 block of Bryant Avenue N., about 8:35 a.m., according to police. One hit Nizzel in the back as he slept on a couch.
The shooter had been standing across the street and ran off after spraying the house with gunfire as part of what police called an "ongoing dispute" involving two groups of people.
"We've had quite a few people come forward [with information]," said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, "and we need more."
Neighborhood tensions were running high in the hours after Nizzel's death, with some people in the neighborhood claiming to know who killed him. Several pointed to a house two blocks away, saying that someone from the house either knew the killer or was behind the shooting. Police records show that the house in the 4500 block of Camden Avenue N., just two blocks east of where Nizzel was killed, was fired upon at 11:50 p.m. Monday by someone standing on the sidewalk. No one inside the house was injured, even though several bullets struck the house, according to police records.
Shot as he slept
Just hours later, the gunshots rang out on Bryant Avenue N.
Robert Tolliver, an uncle of Christina Banks, said he heard gunfire and then more shots from what sounded like a bigger gun. He said it was the louder gunfire that hit Nizzel.
"About six shots came through the wall 'cause they shot like 10 times," Tolliver said. "Then there was a second shooter with a bigger gun, went 'boom, boom, boom.'"
Tolliver added, "I heard him cry out."
Authorities said they believe there was only one shooter, who a neighbor saw run north on Bryant Avenue.
Moments later, Nizzel's grandmother ran from the house, hysterical.
"She was saying, 'They shot my grandson!'" said Kevin Williams, who lives next door.
Nizzel died at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, police said.
At an evening vigil on the front lawn of the house, about 80 people gathered to remember the young boy and to support his grieving family.
Some lit candles. Children wrote messages on balloons. A memorial of stuffed animals, pictures and toys continued to grow.
"This is the second young baby that has got murdered in his house, so that makes us in the north Minneapolis community feel unsafe inside of our own homes," said Tanisha Branch, a friend of the Bankses.
Nizzel's grandmother said he loved riding his bike, could often be found at the neighborhood swimming pool, and was a great student.
"He was an A student," said Rochelle Banks Wowo.
"A good kid. Outspoken. Smart. My only grandbaby," she said, breaking down. He would have turned 6 on Aug. 1.
Earlier Tuesday, preacher KG Wilson drew a crowd with an impassioned plea for witnesses to come forward.
"We got to do this, man! We got to do this or we're going to be over here tomorrow for one of your own!" he shouted.
"Whoever did that tell them KG Wilson said he's a coward. You ain't no gangster. You ain't no nothing."
At a City Hall news conference later in the day, Mayor R.T. Rybak called the boy's death "a heinous act."
Although no suspects have been identified, Rybak and Dolan both indicated that they believe a young person was responsible.
"This is outrageous that someone would put a gun in the hands of a kid," said Rybak, who complained about lax gun control laws.
"I'm almost physically sick when I think about the fact that there are people in legislative bodies in this state and in this country who think it's somehow better to have more guns on the street," said Rybak.
"This has nothing to do with hunting and everything to do with hunting down people ... I'm pissed off."
Dolan echoed those concerns, saying common-sense gun registration and restrictions similar to those in place in Canadian cities would help clean up gun violence here.
"It's very frustrating," he said. "The larger public in the United States doesn't really care what happens in the inner city. It's a population that they don't care about."
Nizzel's death came six months to the day after Terrell Mayes Jr., 3, was shot and killed inside his home by a stray bullet that ripped into his family home. The day after Christmas in north Minneapolis, Terrell and his brothers ran for the safety of an upstairs closet when gunfire erupted in the 2600 block of Colfax Avenue N. A bullet that came through the wall struck Terrell in the head as he climbed the stairs. He died the next day, and his killing remains unsolved.
Terrell's mother, Marsha Mayes, came to the house on Bryant Avenue N. after Tuesday's shooting, saying she hoped to talk to Nizzel's mother.
"I got the news this morning, and I felt like it is happening to Terrell all over again," she said. "Today marks six months for me [since Terrell's shooting], and here I am for another one."
"My pain is every day,'' Mayes said. "I look at Junior in a vase. He should be right here by me. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's wrong."