Four months have passed since the shooting, and Ti’Asia Robinson still carries around a fragment of that trauma.
It’s with her when she wakes up. It’s with her when she shops for groceries. It’s with her when she coaches cheerleading.
It’s there because doctors have yet to remove a bullet from her head.
About once a month in Roanoke, someone is killed in a shooting. Friends mourn on Facebook. Families hold vigils by candlelight. TV stations flash the victim’s face across the nightly newscast.
Less often told are stories like that of 22-year-old Ti’Asia, who was shot in the head while she and three girlfriends were driving to a bowling alley at 8:30 on a Thursday night.
“I never thought I would survive something so crazy,” she said in May, sitting beside her two young daughters in the apartment of one of those friends. “I’m still here. That’s the most biggest blessing I could have.”
About once every eight days in Roanoke someone is hit by gunfire. On the evening of Feb. 27, Ti’Asia became one of them.
In the following months, Ti’Asia would lose her job and struggle to pay rent. She would deal with doctor appointments, a reluctance to cooperate with police, her desire to move on with life.
She lives with a constant, physical reminder of that night. And her friends, while uninjured physically, continue to carry their own emotional scars.
‘They started shooting’
One day, when Ti’Asia was working in cosmetology, she got her palm read: You would be good in the medical field.
She became a certified nursing assistant. She says she enjoys “knowing that you’re giving back to people.” She hopes to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner.
On a Thursday afternoon, hours before the shooting, Ti’Asia gets off work, and a family member gives her a ride to Peters Creek Road.
For years, she had struggled without her own car, taking the bus or walking to nursing homes or the private houses where she worked while raising her daughters. Now was a chance for a new beginning.
At a used car lot, she slaps down $2,600, and drives off in a gray 2008 Mazda CX-7.
It’s a night of bowling, a night to celebrate Ti’Asia’s new wheels and freedom. Kimberly Smith, Vashy Lewis and Kimberly’s cousin Jhave Hollinghead are ready for fun. Ti’Asia drives. They’re on their way to pick up another friend.
They head west down Salem Avenue. Kimberly is FaceTiming Vashy’s cousin. They pass Hurt Park. Vashy applies lip gloss while doing a jail phone call with an old school friend.
For a moment, Vashy thinks kids are throwing rocks at the car.
No, they think, they’re caught in crossfire. No. They are the target.
“Once it kept going, it was just like, Oh, my God. Our lives are on the line,” Kimberly recalled.
Glass flies as windows shatter. Screams. Ti’Asia ducks and swerves. They crash into a parked car.
“I’m hit, I’m hit,” Ti’Asia yells.
Kimberly opens the back door, drops and rolls beneath the car. Vashy drags Ti’Asia out of the car to a front yard. They pound on the door. A woman comes out. Kimberly calls 911. The first few seconds of the call are garbled.
“Get down! Get down get down get down get down!” she screams.
“What’s going on ma’am?”
She yells an address. “Hurry up!”
“Ma’am, I’m putting the call in. Who’s shooting?”
“We don’t know. We was driving. They started shooting. We don’t know.”
“OK, you didn’t see them? ... OK, is anybody hurt? Ma’am, is anybody hit?”
“Yes, my friend is shot. My friend is shot.”
Calls pour in: I heard seven gunshots in the alley. Where? Hurt Park. A dozen more shots in the front end of the street. What’s the address? Someone’s said their brother’s been shot. Did you see who did the shooting? What’s the address? There was an accident. A car has crashed. I hear women screaming. Is anyone injured? I don’t know. We have officers en route. Suspect vehicle is a small vehicle, possibly beige. Maybe a gold SUV. There’s gunshots. Is this at 17th and Salem? I heard four or five shots. Thanks for calling.
Police arrive. Paramedics arrive. A dozen 9 mm shell casings litter the pavement. An officer radios an update: one victim, conscious and breathing.
“For the moment it looks like possibly a small caliber or glass to the head. I can’t tell yet,” he says in the 911 audio released by the city. “There’s a lot of blood, though, but she was talking.”
Medics take Ti’Asia to the hospital. Her friends go to the police department to talk with detectives.
‘I’m still here’
A couple of days after the shooting, the hospital releases Ti’Asia. Doctors leave the bullet in her head.
“They said it wasn’t safe to be removed yet because it could cause damage,” she said.
With her new car now totaled, Ti’Asia finds herself adrift. She takes time off work. She has pain in her head. She has flashbacks of the night.
Her friends have nightmares, too. Sometimes when they’re together, especially in a car, nobody talks. But they know they’re all thinking about the same thing. Older family members chastise the women, telling them they need to change their life. Surely they were up to no good, to be shot at.
Ti’Asia and her friends were not the intended victims in the shooting, according to police, who have declined to elaborate.
Based on her first conversation with a detective, Ti’Asia says she believes the Mazda she bought earlier that day might have belonged to the intended target.
Police ran names past her, Ti’Asia says, and she recognized from social media chatter some people who had been involved in “a beef” between groups of people. These were people she had gone to school with, people she had grown up with. Later, some even reached out after the shooting, she says, to see if she was OK. But she doesn’t know who pulled any triggers that night.
After a month, Ti’Asia’s employer lets her go. She falls behind on bills.
“She kind of does a lot on her own, and she doesn’t really like asking for help unless she really really needs it,” said Tranay Wilson, a property manager for Ti’Asia’s landlord, who has worked to keep her housed.
“She’s a very strong young lady,” Wilson said. “She’s been attacking it like a trouper.”
Weeks pass. A new detective is assigned to the case and tries to schedule a time to talk.
Ti’Asia returns to the hospital in April. The prognosis is the same: too risky to remove the bullet.
That news is depressing. Ti’Asia stops responding to police. She wants to move on. She says she’s already told them all the little she knows that happened.
Nobody has been arrested.
“At this time, this case is currently inactive,” police spokeswoman Caitlyn Cline said in a recent email. “That does not mean that the case is closed — however, it is ‘put on hold’ at the moment due to the detectives exhausting leads and the victim’s lack of communication with them.”
By May, Ti’Asia finds new meaning helping coach a cheerleading group of children and teenage girls at Washington Park. She cheered at Patrick Henry High School and was a captain on the varsity team her junior year in 2014.
“It feels good when they say, ‘Hey, Ms. TiTi,’” she said of the young cheerleaders. “I’m still here to motivate someone.”
Her daughters Cherish, who just turned 4, and Karmyne, 2, wonder about their mother’s injury.
“An accident happened, and Mommy hit her head,” she tells them.
“Who did it?” Cherish asks.
She tells them she doesn’t know. She tells them the police will find the bad guy.
Later, Ti’Asia will say she recognizes the disparity between what she told her daughters and how she has interacted with police. It may sound weird to people, she admits. But she forgives. She feels blessed to be alive. She interprets what happened as an accident, one she isn’t eager to prosecute. Jail time won’t do anybody any good. She doesn’t want to dwell on the past.
As the months pass, the friends’ lives return to a semblance of normalcy.
“We’re doing good. Better than expected,” Vashy said in June. “Us having kids, we can’t let ourselves get down. We’re mothers. A mother’s job is never done.”
Last month Ti’Asia learned she got a job at Advance Auto’s call center. She continues to coach, and to raise her daughters. She tries not to think of the violence of that night.
“Roanoke is what we make it,” she said. “It’s not a dangerous place.”
Ti’Asia talks about what happened, though, because she wants to offer a story of survival. She implores people to “put the guns down.” To draw strength, instead, from grace.
“I just want people my age just to be more wise,” she said. “I just want to be an inspiration to everybody. Even to that person that did it.”