Toddler in profanity-laced video was hurt in shooting 3 months ago in his home
By Alissa Skelton / World-Herald staff writer
The 2-year-old Omaha boy who unwittingly prompted a debate about the culture of gang violence was wounded three months ago in a shooting inside his own home.
His 17-year-old father, D'Marco Pope, was killed last spring in what police said appeared to be a gang-related shooting.
His grandmother was arrested last month after five guns were found in the house. She now sits in jail facing a weapons charge.
His grandfather was sent to prison last year, convicted of a weapons charge.
The little boy who was coaxed by adults to utter profanities for an online video has grown up in a chaotic and troubling home environment, according to Douglas County court records.
Authorities removed the boy from the home this week, along with his 17-year-old mother and two other children.
The children were placed in protective custody because relatives continually allowed known gang members into the house, according to court records. A caseworker said in a petition that adults did not provide a safe environment for the children.
A nonprofit child welfare agency, Nebraska Families Collaborative, became so concerned that it twice helped the family move so it could get away from gun violence.
Despite that support, an affidavit said, adults responsible for the children continued to let gang members into the home and near young children.
“The pattern of gang activity remains a part of this family's lifestyle,” the affidavit said.
“Due to the persistent and pervasive pattern of concerning behavior and gang-related affiliation, I believe it is an immediate and urgent necessity that these children be placed outside of the parental home,” a social worker wrote.
The boy lived with his 38-year-old grandmother, Kim Devers, until she was arrested.
After that, Devers' daughter, Keirra Johnson, 19, cared for the boy, his mother and two other minors.
But authorities told a judge on Wednesday that Johnson didn't have the ability to safely parent. Reached by phone, Johnson declined to comment.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services had been monitoring the family since June 14, after someone reported that the children were left unsupervised outside their home.
The family had been targeted in two drive-by shootings before receiving help from Nebraska Families Collaborative, the caseworker said.
That group recommended that Devers move to a new home to get away from gun violence.
By August, the agency had paid $600 on a rental deposit for the family.
Despite moving, the violence followed.
On Oct. 2, someone opened fire on the front door of Devers' home near 42nd and Browne Streets. The toddler, his mother and two aunts were inside.
The boy was wounded in the foot by a piece of shrapnel. A bullet hit the boy's mother in the shoulder, and Johnson was struck in the lower right abdomen.
Johnson asked Nebraska Families Collaborative for help in finding new housing. The family moved again in November.
In December, Devers was taken into custody on suspicion of illegally possessing a firearm, and Johnson was left to care for the children. Nebraska Families Collaborative gave Johnson $600 to avoid eviction.
A social worker talked to Johnson on Tuesday about the video a family member had posted on Facebook of her 2-year-old nephew.
Off camera, adults coached the boy to curse and to repeat racially and sexually explicit language while they filmed him. One adult makes reference to the 29th Street Bloods.
The Omaha police union had shared the video on its blog and Facebook page.
Union president John Wells has said the video was an example of the cycle of “thuggery'' in Omaha. An official with Black Men United said the union's posting of the video had harmed police-community relations.
Wells said Thursday that he didn't know the identity of the boy or anything about the child's circumstances when he decided to share the video. He said he doesn't regret posting it.
“If posting a video like this saves even one child, then it was worth it,” Wells said.
He noted that it's not illegal, per se, to be in a gang.
But he said the combination of gun violence, the grandmother's possession of guns and gang members coming and going from the home justified placing the children in protective custody.
Wells said he personally believes that the video prompted authorities to act; city prosecutors have said no criminal act occurred on the video.
Kathie Osterman, an HHS spokeswoman, said she did not know whether the agency has a set policy on when caseworkers should recommend removing a child from a home because of family members' gang associations.
"Every situation is going to be looked at individually," she said. "We consider many factors and this could be one of them."