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Jamyla Bolden's classmate in Ferguson asks: 'Why did she have to die?'

Jamyla Bolden's classmate in Ferguson asks: 'Why did she have to die?'
Mourners pause for prayer during a vigil for Jamyla Bolden on Thursday in Ferguson, Mo. Jamyla, 9, was hit and killed by a stray bullet as she was doing homework on her mother's bed. (Michael B. Thomas / Getty Images)

Jamyla Bolden loved jump-rope and reading and playing catch. She wore her hair in ponytails with dangling ornaments. And at recess, the fourth-grader would bound up to her teacher, barrettes swinging wildly in her wake.

But she did not live to finish the second week of school.

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On Tuesday, shots sailed into Jamyla's home as the she sat on her mother's bed doing homework, just a few hundred yards from the spot Michael Brown was killed a year before in Ferguson, Mo. Shortly after the shooting was reported at 9:30 p.m., three officers from the Ferguson Police Department rushed to the scene and tried to stop the bleeding.

Struggling to breathe, the 9-year-old died as her grandmother cradled her in her arms.

"I was holding her the whole time," the grandmother told the St. Louis Dispatch, saying she did not want to give her name because she feared for her safety.

"I kept holding and holding her," she told the newspaper. "I still have her blood on my hands. She was still breathing. I was telling her to just breathe."

The victim's 34-year-old mother, who was struck in the leg in the incident, was treated at a local hospital and released. There have been no arrests in connection with the shooting.

Jamyla's death has compounded a profound sense of grief already felt in Ferguson since Brown's death. It also has unified residents who share a joint sorrow.

Nineteen of Jamyla's elementary school classmates struggled with their own unanswerable questions.

"Why did she have to die?" one student asked Teressa Kindle, Jamyla's teacher at Koch Elementary School.

Others said that the shooting reminded them of losses in their own families, and they wondered if Jamyla's family would be able to send them pictures of their friend.

Since last year, conflicting accounts surrounding the shooting of Brown, 18, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, and subsequent grand jury investigations finding that Wilson had done nothing criminal, have touched off waves of civil unrest in the St. Louis suburb.

On Friday alone, two white police officers became the focus of a criminal investigation in another fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, while nationwide activists introduced their own policy proposals to improve the lives of black Americans.

But in a city scarred by pain, Jamyla's innocence offered light — in part it seemed, because she was somewhat distracted from the darkness around her.

"She was just a socialite," Kindle told the Los Angeles Times. "She was always wanting to smile and have fun, but she never let that get in the way of her academics and her education."

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In class, she was cheery and bold. And studious. Kindle's students have all week to complete their homework assignments, but Jamyla had already started on her homework Tuesday, the night she was killed.

Kindle spoke with her students about Jamyla's death in class Thursday and tried to remain stoic, fearful that she would trigger an outpouring of emotion. But as her fourth-graders cried, she said, she cried with them.

On Thursday, a vigil held in front of Jamyla's house attracted crowds estimated at 200. Family members and city officials addressed the community, calling on the public to provide police any information that could help track down the girl's killer.

On her quiet residential street, they lit candles and released a mass of balloons.

Mark Byrne, a Ferguson City Councilman, told The Times, that it appears residents want to help police -- a relationship far different from what he had seen in the city over the past year.

"I think what's probably most encouraging about it is just the mentality of the people that were there, just in terms of cooperating with the police," Byrne said.

Others have emphasized the strength of their community.

"Our school has endured a lot, but we are very resilient," said Howard Fields III, principal of Koch Elementary School. "We're taking it difficult, but God put us in this situation to lead."

On Friday, Kindle said, Jamyla's classmates continued to share memories of the girl who loved jump-rope and reading. Some said that they had dreamed about her. Others imagined she was still with them in class.

And they wondered aloud what to do with her desk.

Should they leave it? Should they place it somewhere else?

The decision was unanimous.

There, in classroom 110, in Koch Elementary, in the Riverview Gardens School District, Jamyla's desk would remain — a testament to the hardworking friend they had lost.

Twitter: @natalieschachar

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