When Nadria Wright was 12, she was in a car accident that left her unable to walk, an uncle told me Saturday morning outside the Second Baptist Church where family and friends were gathering for her funeral.
She had to learn to walk again. Not only did she walk, but she overcame the injury and joined the track team at Battle High School. She graduated in May and had just started as a freshman at Columbia College when she died from a gunshot about midnight on Sept. 14.
“She was an angel, man,” her uncle said. “There ain’t no one perfect, but she was close.”
Wright was the seventh person to die of gun violence in Boone County this year. Two more people, E’quan Spain, 19, and Kejuane Marshae Johnson, 23, have been killed since Wright was shot. In 2018, there were 12 homicides in Boone County where a gun was the fatal weapon.
I heard the shots that killed Spain. I live in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood, about a mile away from where he was shot at Fifth Street and Park Avenue, and the rapid fire jolted me to attention from the book I was reading at 2 a.m.
It is the second time I have heard shots being fired in the nine years I have lived at that location. The first time was a little over a month ago, when someone fired four or five shots that shattered a car windshield on Windsor Street, just a block from my home.
Nadria was born July 6, 2001, to Adrian Wright and Shaunda Hamilton in St. Peters. She ran track with the Blue Thunder Track Club, played saxophone in the school band, learned Chinese and visited China, and worked at Solstice Senior Living, where the residents began wearing orange ribbons after her death to protest gun violence. She planned to study nursing at Columbia College.
A cousin born a day later, Jaydon Wright, said before going into the Second Baptist Church that she was his best friend and they spoke or texted each other almost every day.
“It shook me to know I was never going to see her again,” Jaydon said.
Apparently, Nadria had lost her glasses recently and until they could be replaced, her mother asked her not to drive at night. She was with Sam Baldwin IV, 28, who was wounded in the same attack that killed Wright. He was driving her to get some food when the shots were fired, the uncle said.
The problem, he said, is gang violence.
“Some guy was looking for him and she just happened to be in the car,” the uncle said.
Nadria was shot near the intersection of Forest Avenue and Grand Avenue, just west of Providence Road and Hickman High School. There was a vigil at that intersection for two consecutive nights, Thursday and Friday. At the Thursday vigil, which the Tribune was unfortunately unable to attend, Shaunda Hamilton pleaded for those with knowledge of who killed her daughter to come forward.
An uncle of Nadria’s and Jaydon Wright’s father, Robert Wright, repeated that on Saturday before the funeral.
“In the black community we need to stop this no-snitch thing,” he said. “We have to stop it. Where is the courage to speak?”
And during Saturday’s funeral, the Rev. James Gray noted that Shaunda Hamilton has worked to end gun violence and save the lives of young people. During that Thursday vigil, Gray said, Hamilton “said something that shook me to my core. She said, ‘I have fought for other kids, never thinking it will be my kid.’ That shook me to my core.”
At the Friday vigil, dubbed a Peace in the Streets Prayer Vigil, minister Melvin Stapleton of Restoration of Life Ministries, which is on that corner, said a gun violence epidemic is gripping Columbia, as it is other cities, especially in Missouri.
“We are a city in crisis, I believe, along with other cities in crisis,” Stapleton said.
On Thursday in St. Louis, Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff of Polk County, promised additional help from law enforcement to combat gun violence there.
Troopers will patrol interstate highways and assist with U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that focus on violent criminals. The state is also providing investigators to help with federal crime cases and social workers to assist crime victims. Parson said his plan also includes $2 million in state funds for services to help crime victims.
Democrats responded that Parson didn’t go far enough, demanding action at the state level to make it more difficult to obtain firearms. Many of the 35 years since I became a journalist have been spent covering Jefferson City, where I have watched lawmakers pass bill after bill making it easier to obtain and carry a firearm.
Missourians may now legally carry a concealed weapon without any permit and the old system of having the county sheriff approve people for purchasing a handgun has been done away with.
At the Friday vigil, Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp, who co-chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence, said one thing he learned during the task force work was that of the 13 gun-related homicides that occurred in Columbia over five years from 2009 to 2013, all were committed with stolen weapons.
One of the laws I watched the General Assembly pass stripped local communities of the power to regulate guns more strictly than the state.
That limits how the city can respond, Trapp said.
“We are pre-empted from addressing guns by the state, so there isn’t a lot we can do even if we wanted to,” he said.
At the national level, the Republican leadership in Congress has refused to buck the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights organizations to pass any legislation that would make it more difficult to obtain a gun. That means anyone who owns a gun in Missouri can sell it to a friend, neighbor or stranger without the background check that licensed gun dealers must perform to sell a firearm.
We don’t know if Nadria Wright was killed with a stolen gun or one that was purchased legally. Until the person that shot her is caught, we probably won’t know. Tighter firearms laws may not have stopped Nadria Wright’s death, but it would be worth trying.
“It is hard to put responsibility on anyone except the people who pulled the trigger, but each of us has a piece of it,” Rev. Clyde Ruffin, First Ward Councilman, said Friday evening.
Rudi Keller is news editor for the Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.