Family struggles to make sense of toddler's gunshot death

Mother of toddler
Marsha Mayes speaks to the media outside her north Minneapolis home on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011. Her 3-year-old son, Terrell Mayes Jr., died Tuesday morning after being shot in the head the previous night by a stray bullet. At right is Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

There have been 36 homicides in Minneapolis this year, and the latest victim is 3-year-old Terrell Mayes, Jr.

The toddler was inside his home in north Minneapolis earlier this week when a bullet penetrated the house and struck him in the head.

The boy's family and city leaders are trying to make sense of a senseless killing. Organizers with Minneapolis anti-violence group MAD DADS said a vigil will be held for Terrell at 3 p.m. on Saturday at 26th and Colfax in north Minneapolis.

Terrell's mother, 32-year-old Marsha Mayes, said she was not home on the night when the bullets flew. She had gone out to get her son a snack.

The mother of four said that whenever her family heard shots fired in the neighborhood, Terrell's older brothers would grab him and run to a closet on the second floor of the house. She said Terrell was on his way upstairs when he was hit.

Mayes said she thought her kids would be safe indoors.

"Over this summer, everybody in the news said, 'Keep your kids inside.' My kids stay inside. They have games. They have good systems. They got everything they wanted in that house, just so I can keep them inside," Mayes said. "But here it is, the devil creeped inside and took my son's life."

Mayes described Terrell as a fun-loving kid who was just learning to talk. Mayes called him Junior, she said, because he was the spitting image of his father.

"They didn't think he was going to talk," she said. "Junior fooled everybody. Junior come home and said 'Ma! I'm hungry. I'm ready to eat, Ma. I'm ready to eat.'"

Police officials said they don't believe the person who fired the fatal shot was aiming at the house.

The bullet was likely fired from an alley about 120 yards away, Fourth Precinct Inspector Mike Martin said. He didn't give details of the shooting investigation. But Martin said a bullet fired from an average semi-automatic handgun travels at about 1,000 feet per second -- enough to damage anything nearby.

"Unfortunately, when you shoot them in the city and you miss there are a lot of things that can be hit," Martin said. "Unfortunately this is the second time where we've had a young person killed who was just in their house minding their own business."

Martin was referring to Tyesha Edwards, 11, who was killed by a stray bullet in 2002. Edwards was sitting in her dining room doing homework when a single bullet hit her in the chest.

Investigators believe there were witnesses to the shooting and Martin is asking for help from the community in solving this case. Crimestoppers has also offered a reward of up to $1,000 for information. The police have no suspects in custody.