CAMDEN, N.J. – A 4-year-old Camden boy shot in the head and killed in the street outside his home was running toward his mother when he was hit, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday.
Brandon Thompson ran into the line of fire as he and his playmates sought refugee Monday evening from a gun fight outside their row houses.
"Why would you start shooting when there are kids around?" asked the boy's crying mother, Stephanie Thompson.
"My baby's dead. He didn't deserve to die," she told WTXF-TV through tears on Tuesday. The little boy's father drove all night from Georgia, relatives said, but was too distraught to talk.
The alleged shooter, Ronald Lindsey, was arrested in Philadelphia by U.S. Marshals around 5 a.m. Tuesday — about 12 hours after the shooting. He was charged with murder. Police are also looking for another man who returned fire.
Stephanie Thompson said Lindsey, whom she knew by sight but hadn't talked to, looked at her after she saw him shoot her child.
She said she called police on Sunday to report that Lindsey was riding through the neighborhood with a gun, but the man was not stopped before he allegedly used the weapon a day later.
Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said Linsey had a dispute with someone in the South Camden neighborhood. He wouldn't say what it was over — other than that it had nothing to do with drugs or gangs.
"It's a shame a baby had to be killed just because people are crazy," said Rita Burch, a neighbor who got her kids in her house before any of them could be harmed.
According to witnesses, Norris Street was abuzz with kids riding bikes and playing tag and adults talking on their stoops when Lindsey rode up on his bike, dismounted, then started firing. At least one other man returned fire, Faulk said.
Investigators picked up casings from about two dozen 9 mm bullets, said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Faulk said Lindsey would be brought back to Camden within days.
Burch said she knew Lindey as a father of two little children who walked down the street handing dollar bills to other neighborhood kids so they could get something at the corner store.
Prosecutor Faulk called his shooting death "another tragic example of what happens when guns — particularly automatic weapons — end up in the hands of thugs and cowards."
Unlike with some murder cases — such as the unsolved July 4, 2007 slaying of a 12-year-old several blocks away — witnesses have been helpful, Faulk said. Two weapons had been recovered in a home on Norris Street, he said, and authorities were searching for at least one more.
Brandon Thompson was the youngest of the 36 homicide victims so far this year in the city, which constantly ranks as one of the nation's poorest and most violent.
Even in a place like Camden, where streetside memorials to murder victims are commonplace, the young's boy's death was shocking. It was mourned, like many before it, with stuffed animals and balloons placed by relatives and strangers alike on the spot where he was killed.
This year has been an especially violent on and is on pace to equal the city record of 58 murders in a year.
Last week, the city's police department got a new chief, a new civilian police director and a new plan announced by Attorney General Anne Milgram to sharply boost the number of cops on the street.
For now, though, it remains a place so many residents hope is a temporary home.
Brandon's grandmother, Jacque Pierce, said the vibrant little boy, his 2-year-old brother and his mother were getting ready to go to a party for a cousin's fifth birthday in Brown's Mills, a town in the country.
Pierce said her 20-year-old daughter never intended to remain in Camden.
"She messed around and got pregnant and she still graduated" from high school, she said. She has a good job at a Target store, Pierce said, but it only pays enough to rent a home in the inner-city.
"She figured she wouldn't have problems because she didn't have grown kids," Pierce said.