Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series profiling American youth killed this year by guns, a leading cause of death of children in the US. Read more about the project here.
Yeah my name Lil Zah, G.
Bout to hop on this beat.
At the top,
You can’t take my spot.
I’m all the way up,
Delivered in an excited pre-pubescent voice, this untitled rap song is a lasting memory of the joy and bravado 8-year-old Zahmire Lopez always brought to the world.
“I was like, ‘Wow!’ I was shocked when I heard it,” his mother, Leontine Niangara, told CNN. “It’s like a real song. I think it’s at least two minutes long. So I’m like, OK!”
There won’t be another one like it. Zahmire, or “Zah,” was shot and killed at his home in Newark, New Jersey, in May.
Zahmire is one of more than 1,300 children and teens in the US killed by gunfire so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Firearms became the No. 1 killer of children and teens in America in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, which had long been the leading cause of death among America’s youth.
“It’s very hard,” Niangara said. “It’s not an hour goes by that I don’t just think about him. It’s hard. Some say when time goes by it gets easier but it doesn’t get easier.”
The shooting took place in Niangara’s Newark home on the night of May 3, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. Police received a 911 call that people had been shot inside a Johnson Avenue residence and responded at just after 8:30 p.m., the office said.
Inside, police officers found Zahmire had been shot, and he was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:14 p.m., the office said.
Read other profiles of children who have died from gunfire
Wyleek Shaw, 27, was also killed in the shooting, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Tajion Simmons, 24, of Fords, New Jersey, was treated for non-fatal injuries, the office said.
Outside the home, police officers say they encountered a man, later identified as 29-year-old Everett Rand, leaving and discarding an item in a dumpster, the NJ Attorney General’s Office said. Police gave chase and during the pursuit, two officers shot at Rand, fatally wounding him, according to the office.
A handgun that did not belong to law enforcement was recovered from the scene, and a semi-automatic handgun with a large capacity magazine was later found in the dumpster, the office said.
The office on September 18 released footage from four police body-worn cameras showing the foot chase and shooting. After the shooting, one officer kicked a handgun away from Rand, and another officer told his colleagues, “I got shot at, but I shot him,” according to the footage.
The investigation is ongoing.
Niangara said Rand, the suspected shooter, was her boyfriend, who had spent considerable time with her son at school dropoff and getting their hair done. Shaw was Rand’s best friend, she added.
Niangara said the shooting happened “very fast” and that Rand was on drugs.
“We were all laughing and then it just turned into hearing gunshots,” she said.
“Everybody’s body or everybody’s mind can’t handle drugs, or you don’t know how your body is gonna react to drugs, and it just happened to react badly,” she added.
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A mother and her ‘shadow’
The death was particularly difficult for her given that Zahmire was born prematurely and weighed just 1 pound, 8 ounces at birth.
“He fought to even get in this world, so then for his life to end short, it’s just devastating,” she said.
In his life, Zahmire and Niangara were adjoined at the hip; she described him as her “shadow.”
He was outspoken, the life of the party, a comedian and a dancer bursting with laughter and energy. He celebrated his 8th birthday in January with a trip to American Dream Water Park in East Rutherford, New Jersey, with his best friends and cousins.
He loved to play basketball and football, and he was particularly excited to put on pads and a helmet and play tackle football this year. Perhaps too excited.
“Sometimes they had to remind him, ‘Zahmire you’re on flag. You don’t have to get too excited. It’s just flag football,’” Niangara said.
After his death, his football team presented his mother with the equipment and helmet that would have soon been his. “They knew how much Zahmire wanted to play tackle football,” his mother said.
More about Zahmire Lopez
Zahmire loved to be around music, football and family, and he got his biggest smile from his dog, Ghost, a blue nose pitbull. He took some warming up though.
“Zahmire used to be scared of dogs, so I got a dog so he could get over his fear of being scared of dogs,” his mother said. “And it worked.”
For Niangara, a nurse at University Hospital in Newark, his death has left her lonely and has made her own home a reminder of his loss.
“At first I didn’t want to move because his last memory was here, and I feel like I didn’t want to leave him,” she said. “But I feel like for my state of mind, I need to (move) because every time I close my eyes, I just relive that night.”
She’s left with the memories, bolstered by photos, videos and, of course, that rap song. At another point in Zahmire’s rap, he offered up a bar that now reads as tragically prophetic.
Yeah my name Lil Zah, G
One day I’mma be on TV.