Accidental shooting a wakeup call for mother of Camden boy

An X-shaped scar marks the spot on 12-year-old Ash-Shams Ibn Andersons face where a bullet exited after he was accidentally shot by a friend when they found Ibns older brothers gun at home in Camden. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
An X-shaped scar marks the spot on 12-year-old Ash-Shams Ibn Andersons face where a bullet exited after he was accidentally shot by a friend when they found Ibns older brothers gun at home in Camden. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 25, 2013

Zakiyyah Anderson's son has an oval scar, roughly the size of a dime, on the right side of his face. An X-shaped scar sits slightly higher on the left side.

The scars mark the entry and exit points of a bullet that struck 12-year-old Ash-Shams "Ibn" Anderson, shot point-blank last month by his 11-year-old best friend.

"Sometimes I think about it: Wow, he actually got shot in the house," said Anderson, 36, of Camden. "I'm like, 'That's why I got to make a safer environment in here.' "

On May 10 before school, Ibn was in the bedroom he shared with his 20-year-old brother, who had apparently left the gun, stolen in Philadelphia, on a shelf. Ibn's friend found it.

Anderson is overjoyed that Ibn is fine, but the accident has left her with new fears for his future.

"Please don't take this incident and make it ugly," Anderson tells her son. "Because it could get ugly."

A boy at school called Ibn "25 Cent" one day, a play on New York rapper 50 Cent, who was shot nine times and built "toughness" into his public image. People also started referring to Ibn as a "G," for gangster, and telling him how cool he was.

Anderson doesn't like the nicknames.

She pleads with them: "He's not a man; he's a little boy that just had an accident. He got shot. That could have taken his life, so stop calling him 'G.' "

School officials declined to discuss Ibn's return to H.B. Wilson Elementary and the effect the shooting has had in the classroom.

Ibn's friends and neighbors "take life as if it's a joke. It's not a joke," Anderson said.

The bullet went in the right side of Ibn's face, across his sinus, and out the other side, said Ju-Lin Wang, the attending trauma surgeon on call that day at Cooper University Hospital. The bullet missed the brain by four or five millimeters, Wang said.

Ibn's friend had picked up the gun, playfully held it up to Ibn's head, and accidentally fired it, Ibn said. The two boys had been getting ready for school; Anderson was down the block, waiting for a school bus to pick up her youngest daughter.

Wang said Ibn was extremely lucky.

"Any gunshot wound to the head is a big deal . . . there's not much real estate," Wang said, especially on a 12-year-old, citing airways, major blood vessels, and the brain. "He's very lucky the bullet didn't go back another quarter- or half-inch into his face."

Anderson tries to keep Ibn grounded by reminding him of his good fortune.

"He could think, 'Oh, wow, I got shot, I got the bullet holes to prove it. I can do this, I can do that.' You're not untouchable," she said. "That's why I keep a tight grip on him now."

The wiry 12-year-old knows, for now, where he wants his life to go.

"My future is I'm trying to be a good man and play football and be respectful," he said. "I know what drugs and things will do to you, and going to jail, it can mess up your whole life."

Football, which he plays at school sometimes, is the dream. He's also thinking about working with animals, especially dogs.

"OK, Ibn, you have to make a realistic goal," Anderson said. "That's why I'm glad that he said he wants to study animals, because if he can't do that, then he has something to fall back on."

A high school dropout, Anderson speaks from experience. She has struggled to find a job that pays well.

Ibn's father is no longer in contact with the family, and Anderson's parents raised her four children for a time when she was homeless in Newark before moving to Camden with another man.

Once in Camden, Anderson rekindled a relationship with her father, who brought the children to visit and, eventually, to stay. She moved into the Crestbury Apartments, an affordable-housing project.

"The problem with Crestbury specifically is it's just once you're in there, you're kind of trapped. Even physically and geographically, it's all fenced off and it's this kind of insular place that's sort of a pressure cooker," said Wren Ingram, who works in the mentorship program at the nonprofit Center for Family Services in Camden.

That pressure has split Ibn from the 11-year-old who shot him.

The friend visited Ibn in the hospital, gave him a hug, and assured him he'd be back. Ibn hasn't seen him since.

After the shooting, neighborhood kids began bullying the boy, Ibn and his family said. He stopped attending H.B. Wilson, and the boy's mother no longer allowed him to see Ibn. Ibn says he knows the shooting was an accident; he just misses his best friend.

Anderson lives with constant worry. She goes to sleep and wakes uneasy, thinking, "What's today going to bring? Who's going to knock on my door today? . . . It's like, every time I see a cop, I get nervous; every time I hear an ambulance, I get nervous."

Among her biggest worries is her older son, Zakee, who is being sought on charges of receiving stolen property - the Smith & Wesson revolver - and endangering the welfare of a child, Ibn.

Zakee Anderson fell into the wrong crowd and got involved with drugs after the family moved to Camden, his mother said. Court records show he was arrested in January 2012 for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and related charges.

"He's not a good man. At all. He tells me not to follow his footsteps, but I already know that because I don't want to be like he is," Ibn said. "When we moved out here, he changed . . . as he grew up, he got badder and badder."

Because she's raising her children alone, Anderson worries Ibn has only the examples of his older brother and the friends who think getting shot is cool.

"This is exactly the type of situation where a mentor, a positive role model, will absolutely, totally make a difference," Ingram said.

Anderson has become a lot stricter with Ibn and his sisters. She wants to know where they are, whom they're with, what kind of households they're visiting. She grills them about their friends' parents: Do they drink, smoke, or gamble? Do they take drugs?

She laughs at her children's reaction: "Ma, stop, judging!"

"I be like, 'No, I'm doing this for your safety . . . that accident put a whole new perspective on my life, so I have to be more careful with you guys,' " Anderson said.

She tells her children they must go to college, and she wants to go back to school, get a job, and make enough money to get her family out of Camden.

"I don't want my next child to get shot in the face by accident," Anderson said. "I just want to live a happy life. And most of the time, it's a struggle in Camden."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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