Emergency responders testified Monday that their first indication of who shot and killed four people inside a Lawrenceville home in August 2009 came from a surprisingly composed 4-year-old girl.
When police officers pointed their guns at shuffling noises coming from upstairs and commanded anyone inside the house to step out into the open, Nhaje Butler emerged from behind a stair rail and held her little hands up in a posture of surrender, said Gwinnett County Police Sgt. Kevin Eisenhouer. She calmly told the officers “he’s gone” when asked if anybody else was in the house, then informed the them that “Rich killed my whole family.”
Her mother’s boyfriend, “Rich,” whose full name is Richard Ringold, 47, could get the death penalty if convicted of the slayings. Monday was the start of the second week of testimony in the trial. Ringold has pleaded not guilty.
Eisenhouer testified that he scooped up Nhaje into his arms and asked if she was OK. She replied, “No, he shot me, too,”” Eisenhouer recalled.
Prosecutors say Ringold shot Butler after the couple got into an argument at her home on Clairidge Lane on Aug. 27, 2009. The day before, Butler discovered that Ringold was cheating on her with another woman, and that he had been living with the woman for about 18 months, according to Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.
Prosecutors contend that, after Ringold shot Butler, he tore through the house firing shots at Butler’s daughters — Nhaje and 11-year-old Jhane, and Butler’s roommate, Rico Zimmerman, 19. Ringold is also accused of gunning down LaKeisha Parker, 30, a blind and mentally challenged woman that Zimmerman had been hired to care for.
All were killed except Nhaje.
Eisenhouer said he covered the Nhaje’s eyes because he didn’t want her to see the body of her mother, Atania Butler, 28, sprawled across the threshold of the front door. Eisenhouer told the jury that he had to step over the body to get outside because the back door was blocked by Zimmerman’s body. The little girl was grasping his neck so tightly that she nearly choked him, he said. Finally, he handed her to a female neighbor, who passed Nhaje off to a waiting paramedic.
Gwinnett firefighter/EMT Adam Hawkins testified that there were only a few small spots of blood on her T-shirt.
She asked the paramedics not to cut off the shirt because it was her favorite, and said that her mom had given it to her, Hawkins said. After the paramedics carefully lifted the shirt over her head, they saw that the little girl had been shot through the chest near the clavicle and through the left shoulder. There were Band-aids on her arm and upper chest that Nhaje had evidently placed there in a childish attempt to dress her own wounds, Hawkins said.
On the 25-minute drive to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, Hawkins said Nhaje told him seven to 10 times that Rich shot her mom, at one point adding that she saw her mother get shot “right in the nose.”
Nhaje, now 7, is expected to testify Tuesday.