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Cleveland teen caught in the crossfire calls for an end to gun violence

Teen track athlete recovering after July shooting
Posted at 11:00 PM, Oct 28, 2021

CLEVELAND — The increase in violent crimes in general and shootings specifically are hard to ignore around greater Cleveland.

Data from local police departments shows there are more homicides and more of them involve a gun.

It was a problem that existed largely in the background for Makayla Barlow and her mom, Natasha Lovelace, until July 10, 2021, when Makayla was shot while driving through East Cleveland.

Pictures of Makayla in the hospital after she was shot show how much help she needed to survive a gunshot would to the head. Photos courtesy of Natasha Lovelace.

She was driving one from one job to another and doesn’t remember much before or after the incident.

A police report doesn’t offer much more information, saying only that, “unknown suspect(s) did cause serious physical injury to the listed victim by shooting with a firearm.” East Cleveland Detective-Commander Joe Marche told News 5 the investigation is still happening but that law enforcement believes Makayla’s shooting was a case of mistaken identity.

This picture was taken on the morning of the shooting, when Makayla had received her driver's license. She was shot while driving alone for one of the first times.

“I grew up in East Cleveland,” said Lovelace. “I went to East Cleveland City Schools and so you hear about, ‘Oh, it’s the worst city in the United States,’ or, ‘It has so much violence,’ but it was home to me once, so I drive down those streets all the time and now that this happened, I’m avoiding that area.”

The bullet entered Makayla’s vehicle through the windshield and went into her head just above her right eye on the first day she got her license and was driving by herself.

Emergency surgery and breathing tubes helped doctors save her life.

Makayla has a prosthetic piece of her skull where the bullet entered above her right eye.

“She asked me if she was dead,” said Lovelace. “Of course, I told her no.”

Even after beating the long odds, the left side of Makayla’s body is weak and she’s still relearning basic motor skills. Plans to run track in college after excelling in the sport in high school are on hold while she recovered.

“When I run now, my brain starts pulsing really fast,” said Makayla.

Pictures of Makayla before the shooting near the intersection where it happened. Photos courtesy of Natasha Lovelace.

And that’s only from the damage on the surface.

“The trouble that we have that people don’t see is the depression and anxiety and everything that comes with the injury,” said Lovelace.

Through it all, Makayla recently started completing her senior year of high school and still plans on applying to college and starting next fall.

Lasting impact

Cuyahoga County Witness Victim Service Center Manager Jill Smialek sees that kind of struggle leading her organization that helps victims of crime once their case gets into the court system.

“Victimization could lead to long-term depression, anxiety, fear of just going outside in some cases, which can make it difficult to sustain your lifestyle and take care of your family,” said Smialek.

Smialek's organization helps victims when they have to go to court to help hold violent perpetrators accountable.

The initial impact is bad enough but when cases go to trial, it sometimes starts the process all over again.

“Victims of crime know they have an upward journey and upward hill to climb when they come to the justice system, to begin with,” said Smialek. “They know that their worst day is going to be picked apart and exposed in ways that they are not really prepared for and do not necessarily want to go through again.”

What’s next

So far, one of the few things bothering Makayla is not knowing who pulled the trigger.

“I’m looking forward to seeing who did this to me,” said Makayla.

Natasha and Makayla are looking forward to advocating for an end to the gun violence that nearly killed the 17-year-old.

She and her mom are thinking about what’s next, advocating to end the gun violence that nearly ended her life for no reason at all.

“I would say why, why, why,” said Makayla, asked what she’d say to the person who fired the shot that hit her.

“We tell her every day how awesome she is and how much of a miracle she is but it’s going to be a journey,” said Lovelace.

Antifragility Initiative 

In 2019, Dr. Edward Barksdale co-founded the Antifragility Initiative at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital trying to address the underlying issues driving gun violence. He noticed and hospital data made it clear that the same young people often came back into emergency rooms with gunshot wounds and many of them were children of color.

“It really comes from the premise that violence is preventable,” said Barksdale. “I think we often think that violence is a criminal justice issue, depravity of people, but it’s the social environment that they live in, where they work, where they play, the housing insecurity, the food insecurity.”

Makayla is still on track to graduate from high school on time and begin her freshman year of college next year despite missing the first few months while she recovered.

The program enrolls families who opt-in when a member comes through the hospital with an injury from violence. The program connects families with counseling but also community resources that could help them address other day-to-day needs and break out of what could become a cycle of violence.

“I know a couple of families that I’ve talked to who have had a loved one injured by a gunshot wound that will say, ‘I remember the first time I was shot,’ and it just breaks your heart and shows you how prevalent of an issue this is,” said Antifragility Initiative Program Coordinator Matthew Krock.

Makayla and Natasha in February 2021 while talking about going to school during COVID.

Barksdale says by improving the quality of life of the people they care for, they can make the entire community better for everybody in every community by cutting into crime and violence. That often means partnering with other community organizations to provide lasting support after the initial help from the Antifragility Initiative.

“We can get people food to last them through the weekend but what are they going to do for the next year,” said Krock. “So getting them in touch with and advocating for things like SNAP really becomes important.

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