For her 15th birthday earlier this month, Shamarie Joseph’s mother got her a pair of basketball shoes and took her to her favorite restaurant, the Panda King buffet. New clothes, a gold bracelet and a selfie stick awaited her on Christmas day.
Tuesday evening, however, Joseph’s family lost the honor-roll high school freshman in the middle of what was supposed to be a cheerful holiday season, and for no other reason they can tell but that she happened to be in the path of a stray bullet.
She was sitting inside her aunt’s apartment about 5:30 p.m. when a gun battle erupted outside in the 1600 block of Apache Drive in Harvey. Shamarie froze in place, her aunt said, as a bullet smashed through the apartment wall and cut into her chest.
She was taken to University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Jefferson Parish deputies said Wednesday they have arrested Romalis Levier, 18, on a count of hit-and-run driving in connection with the shooting, but they are still trying to determine who fired the shot that ended the girl’s life.
Joseph lived with her mother, father and sister in an apartment on Inca Drive. A framed photograph in their living room shows the family’s youngest girl beaming in a red uniform on her first day of kindergarten at Johnson/Gretna Park Elementary School in 2006.
“You can’t put it in words,” said her aunt, Janet Joseph. “She was like a blessing to everyone. ... Everyone she came across with fell in love with her.”
Outside of class, Joseph was an energetic dancer and singer, her family said. She also loved caring for younger children, something that gave her an idea for her future career. Along with the dance studio she dreamed of owning, family members said, she wanted to go into obstetrics and gynecology so she could deliver children into the world.
She worked hard to reach that goal, racking up mainly A’s on her report card except for math, where she struggled but managed a hard-fought B.
“Oh, she had plans for her life,” said her mother, Jacklin Joseph.
Shamarie Joseph also had plans for her mother — including a Chihuahua puppy named Nina for a Christmas gift. Family members said she spent Tuesday afternoon playing with the dog.
Jacklin Joseph, 57, said the last time she saw her daughter alive was as she left for work as a janitor at West Jefferson Medical Center — where she cleans up after surgeries — about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. She kissed Shamarie and told her that she loved her.
Her aunt said Shamarie was sitting on a sofa cradling a baby and watching TV when the shooting started.
A 16-year-old boy was also shot in the abdomen at the same time, deputies said. He was taken to the hospital, but his injuries were not life-threatening.
Col. John Fortunato, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, said Levier, the only person arrested so far, has admitted to firing shots in the area.
Levier was pulled in for questioning after deputies found his parents’ silver Nissan Altima with bullet holes in it on Scottsdale Drive, Fortunato said.
“His claim was that he returned fire after someone was firing at him,” Fortunato said.
Whoever did the shooting, Shamarie Joseph was not the intended target. Initial reports that she was outside the apartment near the male victim when she was shot were incorrect, Fortunato said.
Detectives are still sifting through conflicting witness statements, as well as ballistics from more than one weapon. For now, Fortunato said, Levier has been booked only on a single count of hit-and-run driving because he admitted to striking an SUV as he fled the scene.
Less than a day after Shamarie Joseph’s life was cut short, her family gathered near the Christmas tree in their modest Harvey apartment.
Her mother dabbed back tears as she spoke about her daughter and apologized that she was too upset to speak more.
Kelsey Lash, one of Shamarie’s friends, looked around the room and commented on how much her friend hated to see people upset.
“I guarantee you, if she was to see all of us in this room crying, she would be so mad,” Lash said. “I think she’s kind of happy that she’s up there.”
“I’m not happy,” Jacklin Joseph said. “Not the way she died.”
WWL-TV’s Jade Cunningham contributed reporting.
Editor’s Note: This story was altered on Dec. 24 to reflect the proper spelling of Shamarie Joseph’s first name.