OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - A 6-year-old girl was struck in the head by what police believe was "celebratory gunfire" on New Year's Eve when she was hugging family and friends in the back yard at a neighborhood gathering to ring in 2019.
Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick carried a large teddy bear to present to the girl on Tuesday during a visit with her at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, where she was listed in stable condition.
"We have a young girl who is in intensive care today," Kirkpatrick told reporters outside. "We are just fortunate she is going to survive. Quite an innocent child was affected and hurt by this foolishness. I hope it pierces your conscience to know that your gunfire last night resulted in the critical care of a 6-year old. And I would ask you to come forward."
At an earlier news conference, Officer Johnna Watson said that based on interviews and other evidence, the girl was playing in the back yard of a home in the 9600 block of Thermal Street during a family New Year's Eve party, when she was struck by a stray bullet. In addition to what guests told police, the department's ShotSpotter system picked up multiple gunshots at that time in the immediate area, she said. A vehicle nearby was also struck by a stray bullet, she said.
Depending on the type and caliber of the gun, Watson said, some bullets can travel nearly a mile.
"Celebratory gunfire is dangerous and illegal," Watson said. "This is a very serious crime that occurred. This is a very serious injury." Possible charges include illegal discharge of a gun within a city limit to assault with a firearm.
The man who threw the party, and who asked to remain anonymous, told KTVU that the shooting occurred just after midnight.
He said everyone was giving each other hugs when all of a sudden, the girl, who is friends with his daughter, collapsed in the backyard. Her father picked her up and realized she was bleeding. But at first, her dad didn't realize that it was a bullet that had wounded her; he simply thought she had fallen and hit her head. He ended up taking her to the hospital, where he first learned that she had been shot. The man said that the girl was crying, but was alert and conscious. Police were notified of the shooting at 2 a.m. after the girl arrived at the hospital.
Other neighbors heard the pop-pop-pop of the gunfire echoing in the neighborhood.
"You could hear all the kids across the street and they were going 5, 4, 3, 2, 1," added neighbor Roxana Perez. "There was screaming and tons of gunshots. I told my husband, 'Luckily we won’t get hit.' I’m thinking it came down on her."
Perez said the gunshots were not coming from the house where the girl was playing.
Ahead of New Year's Eve, police around the country urged members of the public not to shoot off guns to celebrate the New Year. Still, many did not heed that request. In Baltimore, a 14-year-old was grazed by a stray bullet during celebratory gunfire and in Atlanta, a 9-year-old boy was shot in the stomach as a result of celebratory gunfire, Fox Atlanta reported.
Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact the Oakland Police Department's Felony Assault Unit at (510) 238-3426. Oakland Police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland are offering a reward of up to $5, 000 for any information leading to an arrest in this case.
KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this report.