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Adrian Walker

A lethal combination

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / April 1, 2008

The indictment of two of Liquarry Jefferson's relatives in his death yesterday was no surprise, but it didn't bring much consolation, either.

The 8-year-old was accidentally shot to death last summer by a 7-year-old cousin, and yesterday a Suffolk grand jury chose to hold his mother and half-brother accountable.

Lakeisha Gadson, the boy's mother, will be tried for involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, unlawful possession of a firearm, and misleading a police officer, among other charges.

His half-brother, Jayquan McConnico, now 16, was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, improper storage of a firearm, and misleading a police officer, plus some lesser charges. Both are to be arraigned in the next few days and face many years in prison.

"The facts are both shocking and sad," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said yesterday. "Shocking because the actions that led to Liquarry's death were so reckless and the consequences so predictable, and sad because an 8-year-old boy lost his life because the two people who should have been most concerned with his care and protection were utterly derelict in their duties."

The fatal shooting raised a host of questions. They ranged from the practical - where did they get the gun? - to the cosmic: Could this family have been saved?

The scenario Conley laid out yesterday was chilling in its carelessness. The gun, which allegedly belonged to Jayquan, was kept in a dresser drawer in easy reach of young children. The drawer was unlocked, as was the gun itself. It wasn't handled like a gun; it was handled like a toy. Both mother and son allegedly told detectives one bogus story after another to cover up the truth of how Liquarry died.

Derelict, Conley's word, seems to be putting it mildly under the circumstances. In the weeks after the tragedy, the family was revealed to have a history of dysfunction stretching back generations. Crime and violence have plagued them for years. Liquarry's mother was assaulted by his father while she was pregnant with the boy.

Over the years, a platoon of public servants, including the police and social workers, had been assigned to try to save the family. The cost to taxpayers was at least $314,000, according to a Globe report last summer. At times, the money appeared well spent, when the family showed incremental signs of improvement. Gadson had not been arrested for more than four years, this after compiling a substantial record of assaults.

But the program they were in, the Comprehensive Community Safety Initiative, also exposed the serious limits of government assistance. His teachers described Jayquan as an engaging child trying to hold his family together. Yet, he was also compiling a substantial rap sheet, while trying to stay safe in an environment fraught with danger.

While the criminal charges won't be settled for possibly years, the verdict on the family is obvious: It failed, tragically.

The haunting thing about this case, for me, is the unanswered question of how many other families are in crisis and how little anyone seems to be able to do about it. This killing is such an anomaly, in one sense, but how many other houses are harboring a potentially lethal combination of young children and carelessly handled weapons?

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said the indictment was an example of the importance of getting guns off the street, an obvious plug for his unpopular Safe Homes Initiative, in which police officers plan to conduct voluntary searches of houses and collect handguns. The community is skeptical, if not hostile.

Even if Davis is right, preventing tragedies like this will require more than just taking away guns. It will mean addressing how a generation of children is being raised.

The anger and frustration sparked by Liquarry's death may not dissipate after a trial. Children like him are being failed across Boston, and no grand jury is going to save them.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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