The sixth floor of Mercy St. Vincent’s Medical Center is a place for whispering.
It is a place where silence is broken by beeping heart monitors and adults who muffle their tearful gasps by pressing their faces into their palms. It is a place where children softly babble over the hum of machinery, unaware that they are the ones, with even just one smile, who comfort the adults.
The morning of Aug. 23, a groggy man pulls a little boy in a wagon from the Intensive Care Unit in the Children’s Hospital to the elevator doors. A woman walks down the hall holding a little girl’s hand, glancing down at the headwrap protecting the toddler’s head.
This place, where paintings of animals and sea creatures meet intravenous therapy carts loaded with plastic bags and tubes and cords, is where Quen’Torria Snowden has spent much of her August.
“She’s strong,” Snowden says, stroking Le’Ondra’s back as she sleeps in her hospital bed.
Clad in pajamas printed with monkeys and peace signs, Le’Ondra is attached to an IV cart by a purple, plastic tube that leads into her arm. She awakes and Snowden scoops her into her arms and holds her.
After rubbing her eyes and yawning, Le’Ondra scoots herself off her mother’s lap and off the bed. She tries to dance a little. Her IV tube gets tangled around her legs and caught in her leopard-print slippers.
“Go,” she said, rocking back and forth. “Wanna go.”
Le’Ondra Hooks, photographed at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center on Aug. 23.
This week marked Le’Ondra’s second hospital visit within the past few weeks, following the shooting that left her injured and her 1-year-old sister dead. It was about 9 p.m. Aug. 9 and the girls were home with their aunt at Snowden’s apartment at Moody Manor, a Kent Street Complex. Gunshots erupted outside, projecting bullets that whizzed inside and struck both Le’Ondra and her sister Ke’Ondra.
Snowden was not home. She got a call from her sister. Her two little girls had been shot.
Ke’Ondra, who was shot in the head, died in the hospital hours later.
Le’Ondra, shot in the torso, survived after one surgery and more than a week in the hospital. Snowden had to bring her back to the hospital this week because of a fever. And she’ll have to bring her back again within the next few months for another surgery.
When Le’Ondra cries, her bladder pops forward and pushes out her stomach.
The Toledo Police Department arrested three men for obstructing justice in connection with the shooting, but no murder charges have been filed, said Sgt. Joe Heffernan. The police are investigating further.
Snowden said she knows the three arrested: Keshawn Jennings, 20, Antwaine Jones, 18, and James Moore, 20. They were each placed on a $500,000 bail and were indicted for the felony charge.
She said she knows them from growing up in the neighborhood, and that they have never tried to hurt her. She assumed the shooting was gang-related.
“The world is messed up and I don’t think it’s going to get better until the world comes to an end and wipes everybody away,” Snowden said.
Since the shooting, Snowden hasn’t returned to her apartment. She hasn’t allowed any of her relatives to go either. She doesn’t know when she’ll be able to go back there, if at all, to retrieve her family’s belongings. It is difficult enough for her when Le’Ondra opens her mouth in her hospital room.
“Ke Ke! Ke Ke!” Le’Ondra says, banging her hands on the plastic hospital bed rail.
Ke Ke was her little sister’s nickname.
Just a month ago, Le’Ondra proudly pretended to be a parent, carrying around Ke’Ondra and playing goofy games with her. Just a month ago, Le’Ondra was carelessly dancing to her favorite hip-hop songs on the radio and scribbling down doodles on paper.
“I don’t think she knows how to talk about it, she just sees people wearing T-shirts with Ke Ke’s name on them and watches,” Snowden said, alluding to tribute T-shirts many of her family members have made. “She knows what’s going on though.”
Snowden’s other daughter, De’Ondra is almost 5. She lives with a different family and was not at Moody Manor during the shooting.
Snowden, 20, got pregnant with De’Ondra when she was 15. Le’Ondra came next and Ke’Ondra was her third. She and her boyfriend D’Andre Hooks have been together since they were about 14 years old.
Toledo rappers Jason Jensen, aka J360, and Sik Da Don Sikosa.
Snowden will move out of her apartment but doesn’t know where she’ll go next. She hopes to leave
‘I feel it’
The bullets that killed Ke’Ondra and injured Le’Ondra are reverberating from Toledo to Detroit, bringing together rappers and activists to hit the streets with a positive message.
Toledo-native rappers Jason Jensen and Sik Da Don Sikosa don’t know Ke’Ondra’s family.
“I still don’t know them but I ain’t got to know them to feel it,” said Jensen, a father of three. “And I feel it, just like the whole community does.”
Jensen, known as J360 by the hip-hop community, and Detroit resident Sikosa composed a rap song about Ke’Ondra and Le’Ondra. They are pressing 500 to 1,000 compact discs to sell Sept. 1 to benefit the girls’ family.
Snowden said the extra cash will be a much needed help, especially because she was recently laid off.
“You can make excuses for people about why they got killed, like ‘Well they were doing this or doing that.’ It ain’t right to do, but you do. You can put an excuse on it if a drug addict gets killed,” Sikosa said. “But kids — you can’t make sense of that. You might have killed the first woman president or a doctor. And now Le’Ondra has to grow up hearing about all of this and knowing about this.”
The pair will perform their song at HipHop4Peace, a benefit for the victims’ family at Inez Nash Park on Sept. 1. The benefit will run in conjunction with the Warren Sherman Festival and will feature other performances, food and treats for kids and speeches by community leaders. Sikosa and Jensen’s CDs will be for sale for $5 and attendees will be encouraged to donate more to Le’Ondra and Ke’Ondra’s family for medical and funeral expenses. Jensen said he and Sikosa are spending at least $500 to bring all of this together.
“The hope is to create a unified effort to show that hip-hop isn’t violence … but violence has been associated with the music of the culture for quite some time,” said Albert “Mac” McCluster III, who proposed the event. “So this event and organization is a challenge to artists and performers to step up and say, ‘No more violence.’”
‘We’re just killing each other’
Sikosa moved to Michigan recently, but was touched by the news and wanted to help.
“I just thought that people cared more, period, than to shoot at a house that has children in it,” Sikosa said.
Titled “I Thought They Cared,” the song about Le’Ondra and Ke’Ondra laments senseless violence “getting out of hand” and asserts that the issue is “bigger than the neighborhood you trapped in.”
“I live in Lincoln Park, Mich., now and I get online and watch the news and, man, Toledo news is rivaling Detroit and it’s unbelievable to me. I’ve had so many friends die there and get murdered and killed,” Sikosa said. “There’s got to be something to bring us together, so we can stop killing each other and if two little girls can’t stop it, then there ain’t no hope.”
In 2010, there were 101 nonfatal shootings in Toledo. In 2011, there were 177. As of July 31, there were 106 shootings this year, said D. Michael Collins, city councilman and chair of the public safety, law and criminal justice committee.
Jensen and Sikosa’s lyrics ask God how to understand man’s actions and asks if there is a heaven because “there’s hell on these streets.”
Both Sikosa and Jensen know firsthand about the “hell on the streets.” Jensen spent time in prison following a fight at a rap concert, which only made him want to give back to the community once he was freed. Sikosa’s mother died when he was a child and his aunt and uncle raised him, but he constantly had to defend himself if he went to a store in an opposing gang’s territory. He was beaten up often, a violence that forces a kid to attach him or herself to a gang, he said.
“After you get whooped for crossing the street, you begin to be like, ‘Well hell, I might as well be bad,’” he said. “If everybody in this neighborhood is gangbanging, it’s a trap — you’ve got to be the ultra male.”
He was entrenched in that lifestyle for years, until his son told him that his mother’s boyfriend had said Sikosa was a drug addict. That was it. Now, he said, he’s dedicated to using hip-hop to spread a positive message.
“From the time you’re born, you can only be what you see … how can you dream to be a doctor or a lawyer when you don’t know none? When the only people you see with fancy cars and pretty girls are the people selling drugs?” Sikosa asked.
Sikosa said the shooting outside Moody Manor exemplifies a tragedy in the black community, which Sikosa’s lyrics refer to as “finally an issue that ain’t white and ain’t black.”
“The only time black people want to stick together is if it’s about something a white person did,” Sikosa said. “You know, my grandmother lived to be 97 years old — and after all the pain and struggle she saw and black people had — we died for each other before. And now we’re just killing each other.”
Tags: Caitlin McGlade, J360, Jason Jensen, Ke’Ondra Hooks, Le’Ondra Hooks, Mercy St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Moody Manor, Quen’Torria Snowden, Sik Da Don Sikosa