Isaiah Payton should be playing football with his friends these days, especially now that football weather is finally here. He should be in the full swing of seventh grade, looking forward to mid-semester report cards coming out next week.
The baby of the family, he should be at home having dinner tonight with his mother, brothers and sister.
Instead he is in the hospital, where he’s been since Aug. 17. He was leaving Lakewood Stadium after a scrimmage that day between George Washington Carver and Benjamin E. Mays high schools when someone started shooting.
A stray bullet found Isaiah’s spine. He is paralyzed from the chest down and might not walk again. He is 12.
“I don’t know who shot my baby,” said his mother, Allison Woods. “My prayer is for whoever did this to come forward.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields joined Woods at a news conference Monday afternoon to urge anyone who knows anything to speak up.
“The streets talk,” Bottoms said.
Contributions from the Atlanta Police Foundation are paying for billboards publicizing the case to go up near both high schools. The reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment has risen to $10,000. Tipsters may remain anonymous and can call 404-577-TIPS.
“Imagine sending your child to a football game and your child does what young men like to do: be athletic, have fun, be around their friends. Imagine just a few hours later, getting a call that your child has been shot,” Bottoms said. “Isaiah played in a game earlier that day. He ended that day fighting for his life.”
Authorities talked to a number of suspects early on, but nothing panned out.
“We’ve hit a wall,” Shields said. “We have turned over every imaginable rock.”
She and Bottoms addressed other recent crimes involving young people. Just last week, for example, 18-year-old Jessica Daniels was struck and killed as she slept when a stray bullet flew through her window in South Atlanta.
“We’re sickened by it,” Shields said. “It’s not OK.”
Bottoms wiped away tears as Isaiah’s mother talked about the difficult recovery he faces. The youngest of four siblings, Isaiah cannot come home until the family, now living in a second-floor apartment, finds a handicap-accessible ground unit. They also need a vehicle capable of transporting Isaiah’s wheelchair.
“Our whole family is in a state of shock,” said Woods, who hasn’t been able to work since Isaiah’s care became her full-time job. “We’ve been suffering, going through emotional and financial stress.”
Isaiah gets frustrated at times, angry at what his body will no longer let him do. A seventh grader at Sylvan Hills Middle School, he keeps up with schoolwork as best he can. A teacher visits a couple of days a week, but it’s not the same. Nothing’s ever going to be the same.
“Isaiah could be anyone’s child,” Bottoms said. “It could have been anyone who was hit by those stray bullets.”
“This is a family of deep faith, so we ask for your prayers. We also know that faith without works is dead,” said Bottoms, quoting the New Testament book of James. “Our community and our city is counting on you.”