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Community Left With Questions After Fatal Shooting of Young Milwaukee Boy

LaToya Dennis

Tragedy again struck Milwaukee this past weekend as a baby boy was shot and killed.

Credit GoFundMe
Bill Thao

Bill Thao was 13 months old, and in a relative’s home on the northwest side when someone or several people fired bullets into the house. He was the third Milwaukee child killed by gunfire in recent months. In fall, shots hit 5-year-old Laylah Petersen, while she sat on her grandfather’s lap in his house. In summer, bullets struck 10-year-old Sierra Guyton, while she played on a playground.

If you drive or walk down North 73rd Street, you might not notice anything out of the ordinary on first glance. Christmas decorations still adorn homes, and on Monday, trash from the holiday sat on the curb awaiting pick up. But in front of the home where 13-month-old Bill Thao was shot and killed Saturday evening, a memorial was growing – of teddy bears and prayer candles and notes people from across the city.

“I made a poster and I brought a few teddy bears to show respect of how the violence needs to stop, 'cause little kids are getting hurt," 10-year-old Halayah Smith says.

She stopped by with her dad, and knows the names.

"Laylah Peterson, she was 5 and sitting on her grandfather’s lap. That’s hurtful to see a 5-year-old little girl get killed and lose her life just like Bill,” Smith says. She says her one wish is that people stop the violence.

Vanette Hampton lives a few doors down. She says she’s lived here for just about a year and this is not the first shooting she’s experienced.

“We have had three shootings since I’ve been here, and that third one killed that little boy,” Hampton says.

Hampton says she has a 15-month-old grandson living with her. And she says these days, she’s holding him tighter.

“I had my porch door open and the first thing I said when I heard the shots was grab Gavin, 'cause he was standing right in the doorway. It could have been my grandson that got hit,” Hampton says.

She says when thinking about the senseless killings of Bill Thao, Laylah Peterson and Sierra Guyton, she blames the parents of the people committing the crimes.

“Parents don’t care anymore. They have no control over their kids whatsoever. It’s sad. We’re killing each other for what? It doesn’t make any sense at all,” Hampton says.

Down the street, Donald Johnson says he’s lived in the same house for 16 years, but he no longer feels safe.

“Like I told my neighbors, they sit in the window, I told them start going to the back. I stay in the back. I’ve got T.V.’s in every room, but I’m in the back,” Johnson says.

Johnson says the random house shootings in recent times make him wonder if police are releasing all the information that they have.

“Is it a gang initiation that we just walk around and just shoot up houses to get in or kill somebody? Do they tell us? I mean put it out there.  How can we help ya’ll if ya’ll don’t tell us what’s happening,” Johnson says.

While questions remain, a cousin to 13-month-old Bill says the family is thankful for the support it has received. Nyaj Thao says members are also hopeful.

“Hopeful that God is just, and hopeful that he will comfort us through this. And that’s our only hope in this moment,” Thao says.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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