Se’Cret Pierce was hit in the head by a stray bullet on April 20 while sitting in a parked car in Hartford, Connecticut – little over 10 years after her father, Shane Oliver, was shot in the back just a few miles away.
Janet Rice went to the hospital Thursday night, as she does every time tragedy strikes her town. A hail of bullets hit numerous young kids, including a 12-year-old girl who was hit in the head by a stray bullet.
Rice’s phone rang on the way. She came to a halt.
The young girl struggling for her life in a Connecticut hospital was her granddaughter, the child of the son Rice had lost to gun murder more than a decade before.
Se’Cret Pierce, the girl, died early Friday morning. Her young father, Shane Oliver, 20, was killed in the fall of 2012, just a few miles from where his daughter was shot.
“Never in a million years did I expect to respond to a call for my 12-year-old granddaughter,” Rice, a crisis response specialist, said in a text message Sunday.
“I am ANGRY, HEARTBROKEN, and NUMB,” she texted.
The seventh-grader was the seventh homicide in Hartford this year, a city that, like many others, is grappling with gun violence. Hartford saw 39 homicides last year, up from 34 the year before, with the majority committed with a gun.
For years, Se’Cret’s grandfather had warned against the perils of firearms. Rice was the outreach coordinator for CT Against Gun Violence for a while. She was now part of a team of “peace builders” attempting to steer her community’s children in the right direction.
Even before his son died, and now his granddaughter, the Rev. Sam Saylor was well aware of how gun violence was eroding his community — a numbing routine in far too many communities, he said. After each killing, the priest would attend as many vigils as he could to pray with bereaved families.
“It’s just trauma on top of trauma,” Saylor said Saturday after friends and family gathered for a vigil in Hartford for his grandchild. Never did he expect, he said, “that I would be in this parade of pain again.”
Se’Cret was sitting in a parked car when she was shot, an innocent and unintended victim of a barrage of bullets that sent people running for cover.
Investigators said no arrests have been made, but they were still looking for at least two people believed to be in the vehicle that sped away after the shooting.
Oliver’s killer, an acquaintance, is now serving 40 years in prison.
On the day he died, Oliver had left home to collect money for a car he sold.
It all started with an argument, as with many gun-related homicides. The argument became heated, and a gun was drawn. Oliver attempted to flee, but he was unsuccessful. He died a few hours later after receiving two bullets to the back.
Rice appealed for longer prison time during his sentence in 2015.
“I certainly hope it will save another mom from all the pain I’ve endured,” Rice told the judge during sentence, according to the Hartford Courant.
Still in shock, Oliver’s parents drove to Newtown to meet with then-Vice President Joe Biden, who was visiting the bereaved parents of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Both of them took the death of Shane and transformed it into activism,” said Kim A. Snyder, a documentary film director, who became acquainted with Rice and Saylor, while working on her Peabody-winning film about Newtown.
Saylor has pushed for stricter gun laws and has tried to shine a spotlight on the urban violence that has taken so many young Black lives.
“Then it was his own kid,” Snyder said.
Even with the slight rise in homicides in Connecticut’s capital, the state has some of the lowest death rates from guns, according to the Violence Policy Center.
“But we’ve got to do more,” said Jeremy Stein, the executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.
In addition to controlling the supply of guns, Stein wants more done to reduce the demand for firearms while strengthening community programs that promote civility and work to reduce the impulse to reach for a gun when disputes escalate.
Stein and others are asking the state to boost funding for an anti-violence commission to $10 million annually.
He called the latest shooting “incredibly personal” because of Rice’s connection to the group.
“She lost her son, Shane,” Stein said, “and now Shane’s daughter has been murdered — both by gun violence.”
The suspects in Se’Cret’s killing appeared to target three males — ages 16, 18 and 23 — who were standing on a sidewalk on a residential street not far from downtown Hartford Thursday night. They were wounded, but all three were expected to survive.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin urged the three surviving victims to cooperate with police, noting at a press conference Friday that they could lead police to Se’Cret’s killers.
“A tragedy like this ripples outward in a community and affects so many,” he said.
The death of Se’Cret weighed heavily on the minds of marchers taking part in the city’s annual Mothers United Against Violence event on Saturday. They gathered on Huntington Street, near where Se’Cret was killed, to support the girl’s vigil.
Speeches were delivered. Sermons were delivered. There were also prayers.
One woman, chanting to the rhythm of a drum, carried the bereaved community’s sentiment: “Put down the gun.”