Sept. 24: Holding onto hope for 'a beautiful daughter'

  • Article by: Chao Xiong
  • Star Tribune
  • September 24, 2007 - 6:56 PM

Steve Hall sat hunched over on his stoop Sunday afternoon, his face buried in both hands and his breath deep and heavy as he spoke about the shooting that left his 12-year-old daughter hospitalized.

"They tell me to prepare for the worst," he said. "I pray every night. I pray to God every night."

Vernice Hall is in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center after being shot in the head early Saturday. Her father said part of her skull was removed because of brain swelling and bleeding.

She hasn't regained consciousness since she was shot.

"I just want my baby to look at me one more time," he said tearfully.

There was a party at Hall's home in the 1800 block of Oliver Avenue N. Friday. He said it was for his children and their friends. About 45 guests attended, most 13 to 18 years old. There had been no squabbles. Just dancing, music. It was just like the party they hosted the previous weekend, Hall said.

The festivities ended just before midnight.

Sitting on the stoop with her parents, Vernice, a basketball player who enjoys hip-hop music and dance, asked whether she could spend the night at a friend's house. No, her father answered. Her parents went back inside. Vernice, better known to friends and family members as Lil Star, stayed outside.

Minutes later, Hall said he heard several gunshots fired in rapid succession. He ran to the porch.

"I seen my baby lying on the ground," he said as he hung his head low and tears welled up in his eyes. "Our hearts are just ... I'm angry and I'm trying to be understanding, man."

Vernice had walked her friend down the block a few houses to say goodbye when shots rang out and she was struck, her family later learned. Her 14-year-old brother had thrown himself over her.

"He can't even talk to nobody," said their older sister, Laticia Smith.

Hall ran out to Vernice. She lay still. "I lost it," he said. "I lost it. What can you do?"

Hall said witnesses later told him they saw about four young men get out of a black truck, wait behind a fence and then shoot as several people were leaving the party. Police have said the shots came from about a half-block away, but would not confirm nor deny Hall's account.

There are no arrests in the case and police are not discussing a possible motive or suspects, said police spokeswoman Sgt. Tammy Diedrich. Authorities said Vernice was an innocent victim; Diedrich would not say whether someone else at the party was the intended target.

Hall said he doesn't know why anyone would want to target his guests. Senseless violence from idle youth, that's what he chalks it up to. And it hurts him knowing that he left a crime-ridden area of Milwaukee for the brighter streets of Minneapolis in 2005 only to have the 14th of his 16 children shot in the head.

"I'm angry. Upset," said Hall, who also said that his 18-year-old son was fatally shot in Milwaukee in 2005. "I've got to be forgiving, too."

Vernice is a seventh-grader at Anwatin Middle School who enjoys learning Spanish, watching the cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants" and playing basketball for her church, said family members.

"She was a good student," Smith said. "She was a good girl."

Hall said that despite the overwhelming pain and shock his family is in, he wants others to know that the shooting is indicative of a larger problem with youth and violence. Police Chief Tim Dolan has said at least four boys, one as young as 12, were shot in the past several weeks on the North Side. None of the injuries was life-threatening.

And late Saturday, a 12-year-old boy was shot twice in the leg in the 800 block of 38th Street E. while on his way home from a convenience store, according to a police report.

Despite the shootings, police say criminal activity involving youths is down about 20 percent compared with this time last year. That doesn't comfort Hall, who holds onto the hope that Vernice will recover. She arrived at the hospital motionless but now moves her limbs when touched, he said.

"I've got a beautiful daughter," he said. "Star's gonna make it. I know she's gonna make it."

Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391



Chao Xiong •

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