The teenage girl who was cut down by gunfire early Tuesday evening has been identified by her family as Janaira Muhammad, a freshman at Austin-East Magnet High School.
Muhammad had apparently just walked out the front door of her house when she was struck by at least one bullet fired by a person or persons unknown, according to sister Sierra Woodruff.
“She was an innocent bystander,” Woodruff said today. “She stepped outside her house and was killed.”
Officials from the Knoxville Police Department declined to discuss any details of the investigation into Muhammad’s death, including the contention that she wasn’t the intended target of the shooting.
KPD officers responded to a report that someone had been shot off Cherry Street near the intersection with Selma Avenue about 7:40 p.m. The officers who found the girl immediately began treating her injuries but she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The girl’s death marked the third time in three weeks that an Austin-East student died from gunfire.
Stanley Freeman Jr., 16, was shot and killed Friday afternoon while he was driving away from the school, according to KPD. Shots were fired in the area of Tarleton Avenue and he was struck by at least one round before fleeing the scene and crashing on Wilson Avenue.
Police don’t believe that Freeman was the intended target.
Investigators haven’t said whether any suspects have been identified in connection with either homicide.
On Jan. 27, 15-year-old Justin Q. Taylor was shot and killed. A 17-year-old boy has been charged with criminally negligent homicide for his death.
The recent surge in violence comes on the heels of the bloodiest year in Knoxville’s history. No fewer than 37 people were killed within the city limits in 2020, breaking the previous record of 35 homicides in 1998.
Thus far in 2021, no fewer than 12 men, women and children have been slain in Knoxville, according to KPD Chief Eve Thomas.
In comparison, by this time last year there had been only three homicides in the city.
Thomas said today that KPD officers will be increasing their presence in the areas of East Knoxville, concentrating on Austin-East.
Thomas warned that motorists in the area can expect to be pulled over for the slightest infraction as police search for suspicious persons.
“We have stood up a Violent Crime Reduction Team which will focus its efforts entirely where violent crime is most pervasive and on the known offenders who are perpetuating this violence …. to bring an end to this gun violence that has spun out of control.”
She continued: “We can and we must do whatever it takes …. Now more than ever it is apparent that we must all pull together. We must all – every one of us – work with urgency and persistence to bring this gun violence to an end. Our children deserve better. Our city deserves better.”