Sherman Brown should have been getting ready to take his 10-year-old granddaughter, Taniyah Thomas, to the bus stop so she could head to Washington Park School, where she was in fourth grade.
Instead, he stood outside her apartment at 450 W. Chestnut St. as Washington police collected evidence in an effort to determine who shot and killed the girl. Taniyah was fatally wounded when an intruder opened fire, shooting through the door to the apartment she shared with her mother, Shantye Brown, and her mother's boyfriend, Robert Lester, about 3:50 a.m. Monday.
The 10-year-old was taken to Washington Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 4:20 a.m. of a gunshot wound to the head. Coroner Tim Warco ruled her death a homicide.
“I am sick,” Brown said as he was comforted by a friend. “This is terrible.”
City police Lt. Daniel Stanek said the family was asleep when multiple shots were fired through the door of the apartment by the intruder or intruders.
Stanek said the door to the apartment building was forced open, but no entry was made to the apartment, itself.
“I believe she was asleep when the shooting started and had got up and was moving to her mother's bedroom when she was hit by one bullet,” Stanek said of Taniyah. “If she hadn't gotten up, she would have been fine.”
No one else who was in the apartment, including an infant, was hit by the gunfire. Taniyah was in the hallway when she was shot.
“We are hoping someone talks,” Stanek said, adding he does not believe the shooting was random but would not speculate about what prompted the home invasion.
Stanek believes a handgun was used in the shooting. Multiple shots were fired. The detective said Brown and Lester are working with police who are investigating the shooting.
Sherman Brown said his granddaughter loved cheerleading, attending class every Wednesday at the Brownson House and participating in competitions.
“She won five trophies, a first place, two second places and two third places,” Brown said. “It is going to hurt me not being able to take her again.”
Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Roberta DiLorenzo said the Prexie community is devastated by the loss of one of their students.
“It's heartbreaking,” she said. “To lose a child to senseless violence is incomprehensible.”
DiLorenzo said Taniyah was a “delightful child who always had a smile on her face.”
“This is so very difficult to deal with,” DiLorenzo said. “It will have a longstanding effect on the teachers, students and the community.”
Counselors will be available to students and staff this week, DiLorenzo said.
Three teachers who worked closely with Taniyah were offered substitutes so they could meet with counselors and take a personal day.
“They chose to stay,” DiLorenzo said. “They wanted to be with their kids.”
Neighbors and workers at surrounding businesses also were stunned by the loss.
Joe Best, who works in sales at McKean Plumbing and Heating, remembers watching Taniyah and her grandfather walk up and down the street.
“It's unbelievable,” Best said. “She was a cute little thing. Always had her hair in pigtails.”
Best said he's worked at the West Chestnut Street business for 27 years. This is the first time he's heard of something so tragic happening in the neighborhood.
“It's busy, but there's never been anything bad,” Best said of the area.
Other area residents saw the commotion but were unaware of what was going on. Ray Brennen, owner of Victory Sports Center, said his business has been located along West Chestnut Street since 1990. While he's witnessed some changes, he never expected to come into work and learn a deadly shooting happened only a few doors from his own.
“I'm shocked,” he said. “It's so sad.”
Brennen said he's witnessed or heard fights in the area, and he blames drugs for a lot of the police calls in the neighborhood.
“It's scary. You just never know here.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Stanek at 724-223-4226 or 724-223-1386.
Staff writer Francesca Sacco contributed to this report.