WATERVILLE — Drive-by shooting victim Emahleeah Frost, 7, lay in a hospital bed in Portland on Saturday as police sought help from the public in finding the person responsible for the crime.

Emahleeah Frost, 7, was shot inside her home on Summer Street in Waterville on Friday. Photo courtesy of Davina Petchonka

“She’s very lucky,” Frost’s mother, Davina Petchonka, said Saturday morning in a phone interview. “They said that the bullet was very close to hitting her spine. It lodged just beside her spinal cord, very close to making her a paraplegic.”

Petchonka was with Emahleeah and the child’s father, Charles Frost Jr., at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where the girl is recovering in the pediatric intensive care unit  after she was struck by a bullet Friday from outside the home. The bullet apparently went through the wall of the child’s bedroom, where she was having a snack after school. Petchonka said Emahleeah’s 6-year-old sister, Amber, was with her in the bedroom, which is off the front of the building.

“They just got home from school and planned to have a snack,” she said. “Her father and I and friends were out back in the kitchen. We were just all sitting around and I just heard this noise and it was like, what was that? It all happened so quickly.”

Petchonka said she ran into the children’s bedroom.

“I realized what happened. She was just looking at me. I noticed she had been shot and I just could not believe it. I grabbed a towel and applied pressure and someone called 911.”

The shooting was reported around 3:30 p.m. Friday in the second floor apartment at 42 Summer St., at the corner of Gold Street.

The building is just across the street from where Melissa Sousa was killed in December, allegedly by her boyfriend, Nicholas Lovejoy.

State and local police converged on the scene Friday, blocking off traffic around the building, gathering evidence and interviewing people. Firefighters and Delta Ambulance also responded.

Investigators from the Maine State Police try to extract evidence early Saturday morning from the side of the apartment building at the corner of Gold and Summer streets in Waterville. A bullet pierced the building and struck a child Friday afternoon. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Waterville Deputy police Chief Bill Bonney said Saturday during a 1 p.m. a news conference at the Waterville Police Department that Emahleeah was in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.

William Bonney, deputy chief of the Waterville Police Department, gives a briefing Saturday about a shooting the afternoon before at the corner of Gold and Summer Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“It was certainly a life-threatening wound and fortunately, she got immediate treatment,” Bonney said.

He implored anyone with information about the shooting, no matter how seemingly small, to contact Detective Daryl Gordon at the Police Department at 207-680-4700. Information about any vehicles that may have been in the area at the time of the shooting also would be helpful, he said.

Police are following up on multiple leads in what Bonney described without elaboration as a “drive-by shooting” and are working throughout the weekend on the case. “The motive is under investigation,” Bonney said.

Emahleeah was taken to Thayer Center for Health in Waterville and then flown by LifeFlight helicopter to Portland, where her mother said the bullet remains in her chest.

“She’s going to be fitted for a chest brace which will come overnight and be here in the morning,” Petchonka said. “They will put that on her and sit her up.”

She said Emahleeah sleeps a lot but wakes up and talks a little. She is able to move her arms and legs, according to her mother.

Emahleeah Frost, 7, is seen in the hospital after she was shot inside her home on Summer Street in Waterville on Friday. Photo courtesy of Davina Petchonka

“She’s pulling through this and she’s expected to have a full recovery,” she said. “She’ll probably have to have some therapy.”

A student at George J. Mitchell School in Waterville, Emahleeah was more worried about her little sister and whether she was OK, according to their mother.

“She’s such a strong-willed girl,” she said of Emahleeah. “She has a go-for-it-all attitude. “She wants to do gymnastics, dance and singing. She’s a very outgoing girl.”

On Saturday, Petchonka posted an update on Facebook that also reported a GoFundMe effort to raise money for the child’s medical expenses.

The post says:

“My daughter Emah was the victim on Summer street that was hit by a stray bullet and is now in the PICU in Portland. Shes had surgery with many more upcoming procedures shes doing ok but not out of the water. We are with limited means as we don’t even have transportation at this time. Please anything will help. We will need to have gas and funds for future appts. And the need to be here while shes under treatments. Again we thank everyone for your caring and generosity at this horrible time.”

 

‘A BOMB GOING OFF’

At the apartment building Saturday morning, Debbie McDonald, 53, and her family, who live on the first floor of the two-unit building, was worried. She said she was not home when the shooting occurred and was not able to get back into her apartment until about 9 p.m. when police allowed people in and out.

Debbie McDonald, the downstairs neighbor to the child who was shot, talks Saturday in her Waterville home about the stress of the event. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

After the Sousa murder and now the shooting of a 7-year-old, McDonald said it all hits too close to home.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I don’t want to live here anymore.”

Her mother, who was home when the shooting occurred but asked not to be named, said she is so upset she plans to see her doctor on Monday.

“I thought it was a bomb going off,” she said of the shooting. “It was like, three bangs. The girl who lives in the house out back was screaming. She said it was her niece who got shot.”

Emahleeah’s family moved into the upstairs apartment two or three months ago, she said. She said she never has seen the children outdoors playing, but an older boy who lives there shoveled snow around the apartment house recently and did a good job.

The blue building with black trim was quiet Saturday morning and a single porch light was illuminated near the doorway to the second floor.

An investigator from the Maine State Police tries to extract evidence early Saturday morning from the side of the apartment building at the corner of Gold and Summer streets in Waterville. A bullet pierced the house and struck a child Friday afternoon. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Police had removed two strips of siding and wall boards where bullets apparently had struck the building from outside. An indentation, ostensibly from a bullet, was visible in the wood near the outdoor stairway to the apartment.

The other bare spot where siding and wall had been removed was between two windows where the children’s room is located.

 

EMERGENCY NEIGHBORHOOD MEETING

Less than 1/4-mile away as the crow flies, members of the South End Neighborhood Association Saturday convened an emergency meeting at the South End Teen Center on Libby Court to discuss what the community can do for the Frost family, as well as for children affected by such incidents of violence.

Kim Hallee arrives at the South End Teen Center in Waterville with a smile as south end residents gather for a meeting Saturday on the recent shooting at the corner of Gold and Summer streets Friday afternoon. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

About 35 people crowded into a little room at the center to also brainstorm what the neighborhood association can do to take a stand against violence in the area.

Anna Holdener, chairwoman of the association, said such shootings are happening all over the country and now have come to Waterville.

“Maine has finally been catching up with the rest of the country,” she said.

She urged people to report anything out of the ordinary that occurs in the area.

“Two people is not enough, reporting things,” she said. “If you see something off-hand, report it to the police.”

She said the neighborhood association plans to form a safety committee. Member Dolores Toothaker collected names of people who said they were interested in serving on the committee.

Several people at the meeting said there are a lot of drugs in that area of the city and wondered how they can help police on that front.

Waterville police Officer Blake Wilder said people may take photos of people, vehicles and license plates if they are in a public way, and call police, who will follow up on tips. But he cautioned them to avoid conflict while doing so.

Investigators from the Maine State Police and Waterville Police Department investigate a shooting Friday at the intersection of Gold and Summer streets in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Waterville City Council Chairman Erik Thomas told the crowd that he plans to bring up the idea during budget season of returning a South End police officer to the area. Several years ago a police officer was assigned to that area of the city. Those present clapped at his suggestion.

A bus driver, Mike Blaisdell, said he has an American flag outside his house, as well as a blue light, to let people know that if they are out and feeling scared or vulnerable, they may come to his house.

Michele Prince, chief operating officer for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program that oversees the teen center, urged people to get involved.

“It’s the power of you all together that can really make change,” she said.

A Waterville police officer looks for evidence Friday at the scene of a shooting at the intersection of Gold and Summer streets in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

State Rep. Colleen Madigan of House District 110, a licensed clinical social worker, said schools have a social worker and guidance staff to help children, and the Waterville Board of Education will also address needs. When something like this happens, children and adults can become frightened, she said.

House District 109 state Rep. Bruce White wasn’t able to attend the meeting but issued a written statement through his wife, Doreen, who was there. It says: “This attack in our community is heartbreaking. We are a peaceful and loving community and our children are entitled to grow up in safety. I am grateful to our law enforcement, first responders and medical personnel who have assisted (Emahleeah) and her family thus far and I pray the perpetrator will be caught and justice will be served …”

White said in the statement that his thoughts and prayers are with the family: “I will do all I can to help support efforts to prevent this from happening again.”

Bonney praised the long-standing relationship between Waterville and Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit. He said the unit responded quickly to help in the case, as it always does in such critical and life-threatening situations.

Meanwhile, Teen Center Coordinator Ryan Kneeland was happy to see the turnout of South End community members on Saturday and said he hopes people coming together in that way can make something positive happen.

“This community has a soul,” he said. “It really does.”

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