Mahaj Brown was the second six-year-old child shot in Philadelphia this week, a coincidence Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Friday "takes your breath away and it's heart-wrenching."
Two weeks before the shootings of Brown and a little girl critically wounded Tuesday in East Germantown, a five-year-old boy was shot in his hand in what police described as an accident inside his home, also in East Germantown.
The three shootings pushed to 21 the number of children shot in Philadelphia before they even turned 13 since the beginning of 2015, according to data compiled by the City of Philadelphia's Office of Information and Technology.
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The young children are victims on a huge list: 1,589 people of all ages were shot between Jan. 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, according to the data on the city's Open Data Philly site. The number of victims since March 31 have not yet been included in the dataset.
"It takes your breath away and its heart wrenching. There are no words that I can say to sway those families' pain," Ross said Friday of the young victims shot in recent days. "They are hurt right now and we can just keep them in their prayers. We are letting them know that we are doing everything possible to figure out who those individuals are."
In both shootings, the victims appear to have been caught in the crossfire of feuding local violent factions. The shootings of young children, Ross said, show how gun violence wreaks havoc on entire neighborhoods.
"You make not think this stuff affects you personally in your neighborhood but this proves that it does. When you hear about groups that are violent you got to pick up that phone and let us know because you never know when an innocent person can get hurt and for certain, the six-year-old boy is," he said. "So you got to give us a call because we don’t have crystal balls."
As the little boy, Mahaj Brown, was rushed to a nearby hospital, according to his family, Mahaj was heard saying, "I can't believe I'm shot."[[389999231,C]]
The boy, who was riding in a car with his godfather when bullets whizzed through the air, was hit 10 times, his great aunt, Erica Petty, told NBC10.
"This little boy is only six years old and he's fighting. He's fighting for everything he has in his soul to stay alive," Petty said.
On Ashmead Street, where the shooting occurred some time shortly before midnight, neighbors pointed out where bullet holes went through the sides of their home.
The shooters were armed with an AK-47 assault style rifle and two semi-automatic handguns, detectives said. As many as 40 shots were fired during the apparent turf battle. In all, four people were hit by gunfire, police said.
Evelyn Jackson, who lives on the block with her husband and two-year-old daughter, said everyone was shaken by the shootout and Mahaj's injuries, especially other children.
"I started crying last night. When I looked out the window I just saw all the kids crying," Jackson said. "They shouldn't be going through nothing like this. They're babies. It's sad."
Detectives collected surveillance video of the shootout, but have yet to release it to the public. The shooters fled in a newer model Mercury Mountaineer SUV that is painted two colors and has running lights, they said.
Police are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in both of the most recent shootings. Anyone with information can contact the Philadelphia Police tipline at 215.686.TIPS.