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April 11, 2014

Stray bullet kills Ind. toddler playing in yard

By Madeline Buckley and Christian Sheckler
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A young woman knelt over a little boy, screaming in panic until a paramedic scooped up the toddler and ran to an ambulance with an urgency fit for the horrific scene unfolding on Campeau Street.

The 2-year-old boy wore little black Nikes and bright blue pants, dressed for a day outdoors on the sunny Wednesday evening.

Moments earlier, he was playing in the front yard with his 7-year-old sister at their aunt’s house.

A neighbor with a cell phone captured the devastating aftermath of the shooting that killed the toddler in the neighborhood on South Bend's northeast side.

A voice in the background repeats “Oh my God” amid desperate, shrieking wails.

John Swoveland Jr. was shot and killed on South Bend's northeast side early Wednesday evening. Police said investigators believe the toddler was hit by a stray bullet during a gunfight between two rival groups.

In a statement released Thursday, the St. Joseph County prosecutor's office said a dispute between the rival groups escalated into gunfire at Campeau and Arthur streets, east of Eddy Street and about two blocks from where John was killed.

Members of one of the rival groups continued to fire gunshots as the other group fled west on Campeau, and one of the bullets hit John, according to the prosecutor's office, which oversees the County Metro Homicide Unit.

An autopsy Thursday afternoon determined the boy died of a gunshot wound to the chest, said Nancy Pemberton, a deputy county coroner. The coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide, marking South Bend’s sixth slaying of 2014.

Police had no suspects in the shooting Thursday afternoon, and no one was in custody.

Lola Price, a 26-year-old woman who lives next door, was playing in the yard with John and his sister. She said she thought the gunfire came from a car driving by.

"I heard gunshots," Price said, hugging her knees on her couch. "There was blood."

Price and her father, Donnie Price, were somber Thursday morning after a fitful night of sleep.

Donnie Price, who took the cell phone video, said he ran out of his home when he heard the screams.

His friend, Charlie Easton, was visiting him that evening, and had just driven up in his truck at the moment the boy was shot.

“Shooting kids, that’s just senseless,” Easton said.

Easton said he was listening to music when he arrived at the home and didn’t hear the gunshot, but he saw the panic and devastation that followed.

The sight of the boy haunts him, Easton said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
“Those big, pretty, blue eyes,” the man said, trailing off.