Children at Ingels Elementary School in the Hickman Mills School District are used to seeing empty desks.
Ingels is a “high churn” school, meaning students transfer in and out frequently during the school year. Often they depart with no notice, leaving their supplies behind and the school staff scrambling to determine their whereabouts.
But the empty desk in Angelica Saddler’s third-grade classroom this week is different.
Its occupant, Dominic Young Jr., should be practicing his math, working on his reading and interacting with classmates in his mischievous way. Instead, the school is reeling from news that 9-year-old Dominic was killed in a drive-by shooting over the weekend.
Initial reports from police said the child was riding in a car driven by his father near Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard and U.S. 71 when he was struck by a bullet, possibly intended for another vehicle. The father told police he did not immediately realize his son had been shot, and continued driving to his home in Grandview. He notified police when he found his son’s body limp and unresponsive. Dominic was pronounced dead at a hospital. Kansas City police are asking anyone with information about the shooting to call the Homicide Unit or the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.
KCUR profiled Ingels Elementary School last year as part of its “Musical Chairs” project exploring the issue of student mobility. We got to know Dominic from regular visits to his second-grade classroom.
He transferred into Ingels a few weeks into the school year from another school in the Hickman Mills district. At first he used his “new kid” status to vent his frustration when work seemed hard. “I don’t know my numbers yet 'cause I’m kind of new,” he said plaintively, while struggling with a math problem.
But Dominic quickly grew to regard his classmates and his teacher, Aubrey Paine, as his school family. In November, he told KCUR he enjoyed math “because it’s easy.” He enthused about football and said his favorite position was “linerback.” And he said he enjoyed “brain breaks,” interludes during which he and his classmates got to dance to videos.
“He loved to read,” Paine says. “He had such a fascination with Martin Luther King.”
Dominic combed the classroom and school library for books about the civil rights hero, she remembers. As the end of the school year approached, Paine loaded him up with a summer’s worth of reading material on King.
By the end of second grade, Dominic was testing close to the fifth grade level in reading and math, Paine says.
“He was very, very smart,” she says. “He loved to dance. He loved to draw. He loved hanging out with his family.”
Dominic had a best friend in second grade, a boy named Isaiah Rogers. They shared a mutual love of football and eagerly sought out sports books during reading times. The two boys socialized outside of school on weekends and holidays, a happy friendship that was somewhat unusual in a school with an enrollment as transient as Ingels’.
Isaiah moved out of the district over the summer – a loss, but something the school’s staff is accustomed to. The death of a student by homicide is something else.
The school district sent counselors to Ingels Elementary Monday morning, as students were beginning to hear reports that something terrible had happened to a classmate over the weekend. Two counselors spent much of the day in Saddler’s third-grade classroom, where Dominic’s writing on the dry-erase board and notebooks strewn in his desk served as a reminder of the loss.
Paine posted a photo that includes Dominic as her profile picture on Facebook. On social media, other teachers and staff at Ingels asked for prayers and vowed to get through the crisis “as the family we are.”
A family, like Dominic’s own, that now must find a way to mend a broken heart.
Barbara Shelly is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.