She was only 6, but Aniya Allen already had big plans.
The little girl who died Wednesday after being shot in north Minneapolis used to tell her mother that she wanted to be a "ballerina teacher" when she grew up. For now, though, her world revolved around "rainbows and unicorns," Antrice Sease said about her daughter, a kindergartner at Cityview Community School.
Mother and daughter had just left a McDonald's and were driving through the intersection of N. 36th and Penn avenues when a gun battle broke out Monday night.
A Minneapolis police spokesman said detectives worked through the night to try to find the gunmen, who fled before police arrived, and are hoping witnesses come forward. A city-operated camera in the area may have captured the incident.
"These maggots killed my 6-year-old granddaughter here in mpls after all I tried to do to help bring love compassion and Peace!" K.G. Wilson, a longtime anti-violence activist, wrote in a Facebook post. "I just went from sad to mad. Right now all I want to know is who did this?"
Wednesday afternoon, police confirmed her death.
Over the past two days, her family split their time between HCMC and the scene of the shooting, where dozens of mourners gathered in solidarity on consecutive nights. A man was wounded in the same shooting and later treated at an area hospital, but his condition wasn't immediately known on Wednesday.
Sease said in a tearful Facebook Live video that doctors informed her that her daughter had taken her last breath around midnight the previous night.
"She was breathing on her own and everything, and now she's not," Sease said, while pacing around the hospital. "It's just so unreal to me."
Sease said that she asked each of her children what they wanted to do when they grew up, and Aniya responded that she wanted to teach ballet.
"Everyone who know Niya know she's a bright kid, she's smart, intelligent, she's sweet," Sease said. "Three kids in two weeks got shot, the other two kids are surviving, thank God they are, it just happens to be my baby had gotten worse, you know what, I'm glad, I'm thankful that those kids are recovering the way they should."
Allen was the third young Minneapolis child shot in a span of two weeks, striking a chord in a city still traumatized from the death of George Floyd last spring and the historic murder trial of the former police officer who killed him.
On April 30, Ladavionne Garrett Jr., 10, was riding in a car with his mother and father when a gunman or gunmen opened fire. One of the bullets pierced the trunk and struck Ladavionne in the head as he was eating from a can of Pringles, officials said. They said the boy was put into a medically induced coma at North Memorial Health Hospital, where doctors were forced to remove a portion of his skull to relieve swelling on the brain.
On Saturday, 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith was at a friend's house jumping on a trampoline when a car pulled into the alley and someone inside fired several shots at a nearby house, striking her in the head. Repeated vigils for both children have continued outside North Memorial, where they continue to fight for their lives.
On Wednesday night, about 100 people gathered at an intersection near where Aniya was shot to plead with witnesses to come forward.
"Whoever killed these kids, turn them in. There's only so much the police and the mayor can do," said John Martin, a friend of K.G. Wilson. "We need to take back our community by force, by all means necessary."
Mayor Jacob Frey promised Aniya's family the city would do what it could to bring justice.
"We can push back on this needless and unnecessary gun violence in our community," Frey said at the vigil. "A whole city needs to stand up so this does not happen again."
Police spokesman John Elder said Wednesday that the department had at least a dozen detectives from three units, including Homicide, trying to track down the suspects in all three cases.
"The investigations are moving, but again we are strongly encouraging people to do the right thing and come forward with information," he said. "We know that there are people who have information about these cases."
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the federal agency has offered gun-tracing technology and agents to assist city police. The FBI is also expected to join the investigations, a bureau spokesman confirmed.
The shootings come amid a recent spate of violence that has city and community leaders worried as summer approaches.
Aniya's death was the city's 28th homicide of the year — double the number it had in the same period last year — and 189 people have been wounded or killed in shootings, compared with 75 at this point in 2020, according to Police Department crime figures. So far, 22 children have been struck by gunfire, three fatally, the figures show.
In some ways, the shootings are a continuation of the violence that rocked the city in 2020, reaching levels not seen in a quarter century. Some crimes have fallen since then, while others, like homicides and serious assaults, continued to rise. MPD figures show the city has had 27 homicides as of Tuesday, compared with just 14 at this point in 2020.
Last year, shootings in many cities rose across the country, including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. A recent study found that firearm-related injuries sustained or inflicted by children under 12 surged during the first six months of the pandemic. Authors of the report, published in the journal Pediatrics last month, blamed the sudden increase on a variety of factors, ranging from increased mental strain and children having less supervision due to many schools being closed, to a jump in gun sales to first-time owners, who may not have received proper training due to the pandemic.
Both liberal lawmakers and many experts saw the rise in violent crime as a result of the pandemic, which they say has deepened the systemic problems that often fuel gun violence, including poverty and unemployment.
The issue of crime and how best to contain it promises to be a major issue in this fall's local political races. The debate is already playing out at City Hall, most recently between Frey and Minneapolis City Council member Phillipe Cunningham, with both saying they have a plan to deal with the surge in violence.
Community leaders say that the parts of Minneapolis where gun violence is most prevalent have been hit harder by the pandemic than the rest of the city. Black people have been infected and have died from the virus at higher rates, and are more likely to lose their jobs to COVID-related layoffs. On top of that, numerous social programs have been disrupted because of the lack of money.
The rise in violence comes as the MPD grapples with staffing shortages and sinking public support.
As a result, some are pushing the city to ask for help from outside law enforcement agencies with the crime-heavy summer months right around the corner.
Others complained about the absence of "violence interrupters," street workers hired by the city to help defuse disagreements before they escalate into gunfire. The approach is modeled after Cure Violence Global, a Chicago-based program, which has been used with varying success in more than 25 cities across the U.S. and Canada.
Sasha Cotton, director of the city's Office of Violence Prevention, told the Star Tribune that the interrupters are in the last stages of their training, and the first ones are expected hit the streets in June. While the previously low-profile office saw its budget triple this year, its small staff has been asked to take on steadily larger projects, such as the reopening of 38th and Chicago, she said. In the meantime, city officials are figuring out what to do with federal money it received through the American Recovery Plan, which could be used to fund certain violence-prevention measures.
In an interview Tuesday, Cotton said the city is trying to build a comprehensive system of public safety, where everyone from police officers to mental health specialists will play a role, likening it to a trip to the hospital.
"If doctors and nurses are being pitted against each other, or medical assistants against X-ray techs, then the whole system fails and the patient doesn't get the best service," she said. "An X-ray tech is going to be better at doing X-rays than a medical assistant who draws blood. But that doesn't mean that medical assistant isn't important."
MPD statistics show that at least 186 children under the age of 18 have been wounded or killed by gunfire since 2016, their names becoming synonymous with the intractable violence gripping parts of the city.
The most recent high-profile case occurred in 2016, when 2-year-old Le'Vonte King Jason Jones was struck and killed by gunfire as he rode in a van with his father and his 15-month-old sister, who was also shot but survived. The trial of the suspected shooter is set to start later this year.
But such killings stretch back years. In 2002, Tyesha Edwards, 11, was killed when a bullet sailed into her South Side home as she did her homework. Another wayward bullet claimed the life of 3-year-old Terrell Mayes Jr., who was running to hide in an upstairs closet after gunfire broke outside his mother's home. Despite a reward that rose to $60,000, his killing remains unsolved. The following year, 5-year-old Nizzel George was shot in the back as he slept on his grandmother's couch on Bryant Avenue N., a crime for which two teenagers were later found guilty and sentenced to prison.
Hours before Aniya was declared dead, her mother was still holding out hope that she would somehow pull through.
"Right now they're saying she's brain dead, but I'm going to continue to keep my faith and just hopefully she pull through, full recovery," she said in the Facebook Live video, her voice occasionally quivering. "You know, my baby, my child, my love."
Staff writer Alex Chhith contributed to this report.