Suspects sought in shooting of 2 girls, ages 9 and 11, caught in the crossfire on a New York City playground

"My heart fell out of my chest," the mother of one of the girls said.

June 4, 2024, 4:09 PM

A search continued on Tuesday for a pair of gunmen who opened fire on a man in a New York City playground, hitting two children in the line of fire, police said.

The shooting in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn erupted Monday night as the girls were playing on a field at the Hilltop Playground, according to New York City Police Department investigators.

New York City police officers investigate a shooting on June 3, 2024, that left two girls, ages 9 and 11, wounded at a Hilltop Playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

The injured girls were identified by relatives as 9-year-old Ruanna Brown and her 11-year-old cousin, Empress Alexander Davis.

Empress' mother was sitting on a nearby park bench watching the girls play on the artificial grass of the playground's main field when the shooting occurred, relatives said.

"My heart fell out of my chest to hear my daughter was shot. First thing I thought was Lord take my life and not hers," Ruanna's mother, Melissa Alexander, told ABC New York City station WABC. "I'm lost for words. I'm devastated. I'm hurt. I cried all night, all morning. I just want my baby to be safe."

New York City police officers investigate a shooting on June 3, 2024, that left two girls, ages 9 and 11, wounded at a Hilltop Playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Alexander said her daughter was shot in her right knee while Empress, who remained hospitalized Tuesday, was hit in the back.

Ruanna told WABC Tuesday that she is "feeling OK."

"I was a little nervous so I didn't talk too much but the doctors were trying to make me talk a lot so I wouldn't fall asleep," said Ruanna, who was released from the hospital and is recovering at home. "So, I didn't really have a lot to say, but they were asking me questions about my summer."

Alexander said her daughter woke up all night because she was afraid she was alone.

In an interview from her hospital bed, Empress recalled details of the shooting.

"I could feel my shoulder, and then my cousin was screaming about a leg or a knee," Empress told WABC.

The shooting erupted around 9:05 p.m. as the girls were playing, Assistant Chief Scott Henderson, commanding officer of the Brooklyn North patrol division, said at a news conference at the playground where the girls were shot.

"Unfortunately, we're here on a nice spring evening to talk about yet another senseless act of gun violence directed toward our most vulnerable youth," Henderson said.

Henderson said the preliminary investigation indicates that two gunmen fired at least six rounds at an individual. While the gunshots missed the targeted individual, the children were hit by errant bullets. Henderson said there is no evidence that the gunfire was meant for the children.

"At this time, it is unknown who the intended target was," Henderson said.

NYPD Deputy Chief John Mastronardi, commanding officer of the Detective Borough Brooklyn North, said security video reviewed by detectives captured two gunmen entering the playground and both opening fire on the yet-to-be-identified individual, but ended up hitting the girls instead.

No arrests have been announced as of Tuesday afternoon and detectives asked for the public's help in identifying the gunmen.

Henderson said family members drove both girls to Brookdale Hospital.

A motive for the shooting remains under investigation.

"At this time, we're exploring multiple avenues of possible motives for this type of incident, but we're not going to rule out gang-related incidents that are problematic to this particular area of Brooklyn," Mastronnardi said.

He pointed out several pairs of shoes scattered on the playground, including those worn by the young victims.

Henderson said investigators recovered shell casings at the scene from two different caliber guns.

"Our detectives will be working diligently to apprehend the individuals responsible for this horrendous act of violence," Henderson said.

Several pairs of Crocs were left behind on a field at the Hilltop Playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn, including those worn by two children, ages 9 and 11, who were shot there on June 3, 2024.

Alexander had a message for the assailants who injured the children: "Get a life."

"There's so much more constructive things to do. You're putting children's lives at stake. Innocent children," Alexander said.

Parents and grandparents who frequent the park said the shooting left them worried for their children.

"I'm angry. I'm upset. I'm hurt because it's local children that are in this park all the time. I was in the park with my grandson, who is a year old," one resident told WABC, adding she knows one of the girls who was shot and saw her at the playground over the weekend.

The young victims are among 324 children 11 years old or younger who have been shot in incidents across the nation in the first five months of the year, including 94 who were killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a website that tracks all U.S. shootings.

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