Friends for life: One girl shot while saving the other

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Richmond Times-Dispatch – Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Two years ago today, a long, green car drove down a Gilpin Court street, its occupants hosing down the sidewalk with an assault rifle.

Bullets slammed into one, two, three, four people. Children scattered like doves in the face of the ferocious 10:20 p.m. drive-by.

Eight-year-old Tearra Nicholas was almost clear when she heard a neighbor’s voice over the gunfire: “Oh my God! Where’s Shaneise?”

Tearra loved her 2-year-old neighbor, Shaneise Earley. They had been playing together on the sidewalk just moments earlier.

So, “I went to get her,” Tearra said later. “I had to.”

She scooped up the little girl in her arms and ran like the wind for Shaneise’s grandmom’s house.

Something hit Tearra in the arm and chest, but still she ran.

They tumbled through the open door into the arms of Shaneise’s grandmom, Cynthia Armstrong. Blood flowed onto the floor.

Shaneise was unscathed. But a bullet had bored through Tearra’s right arm and into her chest, smashing her ribs. She was the fifth person wounded in the shooting. All survived.

Tearra came home to a hero’s welcome after five days in the hospital.

Richmond’s Leadership Roundtable Foundation honored her, as did Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver. She was nominated for a national lifesaving award.

Soon after the shooting, both girls moved away. Tearra’s family moved a few blocks to a more secluded corner of Gilpin Court. Shaneise moved several times, winding up at her great-grandfather’s house in North Side.

No arrests were made in the case.

Life moved on, bringing peace and happiness to one of the girls, and a measure of tragedy to the other.

Today, two years later, you’d hardly recognize them. They’ve both grown, of course, and both are just as cute as girls can be, even though they’re certified tomboys.

Tearra is 10 now. She has braces on her teeth, and she’ll be in the fifth grade at Carver Elementary. She’s a member of the drill team at Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church and marched in a recent back-to-school rally.

“Playing football,” she said when asked about her favorite thing to do.

“And wrasslin’ with the boys,” added her mother, Samantha Nicholas, who beams when looking at her daughter. “She’s doing great!”

The puckered entry and exit scars on Tearra’s right arm are the only visible signs of her heroism. She says she’s completely healed and doesn’t feel the bullet fragments she carries in her chest. The “Montel” television show called late last year, asking her to be a guest, but that has yet to pan out.

Her long-range plans: “I’m going to be a nurse.”

Shaneise is 4 now, with a rugged, outgoing personality. Even the way she walks hints that she’ll grow up to be a woman of strength and confidence.

She’s about to start kindergarten at Mary Munford Model Elementary.

“She’s ready for school, but I don’t know if school is ready for her,” said Armstrong, with a chuckle. Armstrong has custody of Shaneise because the little girl’s mother – Armstrong’s daughter – was just 16 when Shaneise was born. Currently, they all live together with Armstrong’s father. Shaneise now has a baby brother, and constant playmate.

Shaneise’s father, Darvongello “Woo” Williams, was shot to death three months ago during a drug-related incident in the East End.

Williams had spent a good deal of time with Shaneise, who misses him. For a while, she’d have nightmares and ask her grandmother if they could go back to the funeral home “and get daddy,” Armstrong said.

Life for Shaneise isn’t quite as settled as it is for Tearra. Armstrong, who works at a temp agency and has epilepsy and bleeding ulcers, can’t afford school clothing for Shaneise. Armstrong admitted to being a little overwhelmed. “I’ve really had my share,” she said.

But Shaneise certainly seems to be happy and full of life.

The two girls rarely see each other these days. When they got together last weekend, both of their young faces lit up.

“I’m going to be a nurse, too,” Shaneise said firmly as she looked up admiringly at her friend and savior.