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When war comes, age is no factor

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Richmond Times-Dispatch – Sunday, September 6, 1998

This is the stuff wartime medals are made of:

The soldier runs into the line of heavy sniper fire to scoop up a helpless, fallen comrade. Dashing for cover, the soldier hunches over, keeping his body between the comrade and the enemy.

A bullet tears through his arm and plows into his chest, smashing into three ribs and puncturing a lung. But still he runs, staggering into the safety of the bunker before falling with his burden.

“I didn’t know I was shot until I looked at the floor,” the soldier recalled Thursday. “I saw all the blood. I looked at my clothes; they were red.

“It hurted.”

Our soldier is 8-year-old Tearra Nicholas.

Her comrade is her beloved neighbor, 2-year-old Shaneise Earley.

The enemy: several maniacs in a green Lincoln Continental who shot Tearra and four other people on a crowded corner during last weekend’s drive-by shooting in the Gilpin Court housing complex.

Miraculously, no one died. No arrests have been made. No motive has been released. Police say they’re making progress.

“Tearra is a guardian angel .*.*. a hero,” said the 2-year-old’s grandmother, Cynthia Armstrong, who saw the drive-by in fear-choked slow motion.

Tearra has loved Shaneise since the little girl was born a few doors down from her apartment on West Coutts Street, relatives and neighbors say.

“She calls her ‘my baby,’*” said 13-year-old Georgette Jones.

It was a typical summer night in Gilpin last Saturday, with women chatting on their porches, watching their children and grandchildren play as they waited for their mostly non-air-conditioned apartments to cool. Many had just come home from the fifth annual Gilpin Court Reunion down the street.

Shaneise was at the wheel of a battery-powered Barbie car, with Tearra co-piloting from the back as they slowly hummed up and down the sidewalk with other girls tagging along for their turns.

No one paid much attention to the green Continental when it slowly pulled up to the St. Paul Street corner at 10:20 p.m.

“I heard a loud blast, like a cannon,” recalled Armstrong, known in the neighborhood as “Miss Cyn.”

Everyone knew what it was, and what to do. Children like Tearra have been taught, early and often, to run inside and get on the floor when they hear shots.

“If they’re down the street, just run to whoever’s house they’re closest to,” said Tearra’s mom, Samantha Nicholas.

In a flash, adults and children bolted into the brick and concrete apartments.

“I jumped out of the chair and started for the door,” Miss Cyn said. Once inside, she remembered her little granddaughter in the Barbie car. Bullets were flying in earnest by then. “Oh, my God! Where’s Shaneise!”

Tearra, running for the nearest door, heard that call.

“I went to get her,” Tearra recalled after being discharged from the hospital Thursday. “I had to.”

“Isn’t that something?” said her grandmother, Annie Creasy, as she listened proudly.

Miss Cyn, pinned down in her apartment by the bullets from two guns, watched and prayed as Tearra grabbed little Shaneise to her chest and ran for the apartment.

“Lord, please don’t let them be killed,” Miss Cyn prayed.

Then they were tumbling through the door, Miss Cyn pulling them in.

“When I fell, I still had her in my arms,” Tearra said, speaking matter-of-factly from her mother’s bed, where she lay bandaged and pampered and surrounded by balloons and stuffed dolls and cards as call after call came in for the hero. The Carver Elementary School third-grader made clucking sounds with her tongue and laughed into the phone.

But right after the shooting, she had cried. It hurt. Miss Cyn was in a frenzy. Tearra’s mom came, screaming. The way her little girl was bleeding .*.*.

A tough-looking firefighter with a concerned look on his sweating face carried Tearra in his arms to one of the waiting ambulances as medics helped the other shooting victims on the sidewalk.

By then she was calm, no longer crying. “Everybody kept looking at me,” she explained later.

Inside the ambulance, she watched, as if fascinated, while the medics slid an IV needle into her arm.

The ambulance was rather interesting, she admitted later. “I’d never been in one before.”

“She’s got a lot of guts,” said a neighborhood friend, 13-year-old Chelsea Johnson.

Tearra’s 10-year-old sister, Tesia, agreed: “I thank God for a sister like Tearra.”

A local police organization and a department store treated Tearra to a school shopping spree Friday. Workers at a manufacturing plant have passed the hat. She and her family will apparently be moved, for safety reasons, to another apartment complex – far away from Tearra’s dear friend.

Our soldier’s ribs still hurt. A bullet remains in her chest, a hidden medal not too far from that brave heart.