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‘Daddy, it really burns!’ Another child wounded by gunfire

If it seems like you’re reading about a child getting shot almost every week, there’s a reason for it – it’s because a child is getting shot. 

Almost every week. 

Last week, The New Tri-State Defender brought you the story of Legend Johnson, a 7-year-old who survived a spray of gunfire into his South Memphis home. This time, the victim is 4-year-old Itali Hope Oakley, who took a bullet just before 9 p.m. on Feb. 18 when a gunman opened fire on the family car. 

“BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM,” said Kerbi Oakley, Itali’s mother. “I didn’t know what it was until it was over. The car sped off, and I wasn’t sure what had just happened.”

Kerbi screamed as she realized the toddler had been shot. Eric Moore, Itali’s father, quickly turned around and headed back home just a few blocks away.

“Oh, Daddy, it really burns,” Itali said.

“Where does it burn, baby?” Moore asked. 

Itali’s little hand went up to her neck, and her parents could see she was bleeding profusely. When they arrived, Kerbi screamed and banged on the door for her grandmother, Charlene Dearing.

 “Mama, Itali has been shot!” Kerbi cried. Moments later, police showed up, then an ambulance. Paramedics quickly loaded Itali’s motionless body into the vehicle. After being questioned by police, the young parents scrambled to Methodist-LeBonheur “in record time,” Kerbi said. “He ran every light.”

Itali Oakley’s Recovery Fund

A matter of life and death…

By the time Itali arrived at the ER, the trauma team was already prepped. Methodist-LeBonheur’s Medical Director of Trauma, Dr. Regan Williams, explained that the trauma team assumes they have only seconds to save a child’s life, and act accordingly.

“In 30 seconds, the team checks the airwaves to make sure the patient is breathing. The child is checked from head to assess injuries,” she said. “Circulation is checked. Blood is given if there is extensive blood loss.” 

As Itali underwent surgery, her family kept a frantic vigil. Surgeons removed bullet fragments from her brain. Once out of surgery, her condition was still critical.

Joy came in the morning.

“The doctor told me my little girl was going to make it,” said Oakley. “She was awake a few minutes on Monday, but fell right back to sleep. The doctor said sleep is good for her right now.”

Williams said most children with gunshot wounds survive. 

“Generally, we can save most of these children, even if they are critical.”

In happier times, Itali and her mother, Kerbi Oakley, who was distraught when she had to leave her daughter at Le Bonheur, are almost inseparable. (Courtesy photo)

Suspect identified…

Oakley received another call Tuesday morning, just when she thought things couldn’t get better.

“Ms. Oakley, we have identified the shooter and his vehicle,” the officer said. “A warrant has been issued for his arrest, and we are searching for him now.”

Police declined to release the suspect’s information.

Among the best, prepared for the worst

Itali is one of 20 children who have been shot since Jan. 1, giving Memphis one of the highest juvenile gunshot rates among major cities across the country, Williams said.

Methodist-LeBonheur’s trauma team – 17 specialists, including pediatric surgeons and pediatric emergency medicine physicians – is considered among the best in the region. That’s why children from throughout the Mid-South and beyond are flown into Memphis for trauma care. 

“Other major cities are seeing the same thing, but the number of children being shot is way above many of them,” said Williams.

“It’s crazy.” 


Wounding of 7-year-old Legend Johnson spotlights youth in violent crosshairs


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