JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than two years after a Jacksonville toddler’s life was cut short by bullets meant for his teenage cousin, Aiden McClendon’s family is still waiting for justice.
But the end of that wait might be in sight as juries were selected Monday for the two 19-year-olds accused of firing the fatal shots.
Aiden was an innocent victim in a gang rivalry that spilled over Jan. 29, 2016, in a spray of gunfire on Spearing Street on the city’s Eastside.
Three of those shots hit the 22-month-old boy as he sat in a car with his mother and grandmother. He was still in his car seat, according to family members.
Aiden was rushed to a hospital in critical condition. He died from a bullet in his back.
He was the only victim wounded in the shooting.
But police have said the teens who opened fire that night from a passing car were targeting Aiden’s 19-year-old cousin, who was a rival gang member. The cousin was standing in front of a nearby house, which was left riddled with bullets.
Just over a week after Aiden was gunned down, police pulled over 16-year-old Henry Hayes IV while he was driving his father’s car. They found a 9mm gun in the car and took it as evidence.
Court documents show the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tested the gun and determined it was the weapon that killed Aiden.
A week before his 17th birthday, Hayes was charged with murder, attempted murder and other gun charges in the drive-by shooting.
Kquame Richardson, who was 17 at the time of the drive-by, was also later charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the shooting.
Police said both Hayes and Richardson are members of the Problem Child Entertainment, or PCE, gang.
Two of the prosecution’s witnesses in the case against Richardson and Hayes are fellow gang members, and the courtroom will be closed for their testimony to protect their identities. Prosecutors said they and their families have already been threatened over their testimony, which is expected to focus on the gang activity that sparked the shooting.
The death of the smiling, sweet boy pictured in heart-wrenching family photos galvanized city leaders, who said they were determined to put an end to the senseless violence that cost the toddler his life.
Late last year, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office announced that a lengthy undercover investigation into PCE had resulted in several arrests.
Sheriff Mike Williams said at the time that PCE’s “reign of terror has come to an end. Our community has had enough.”
Hayes and Richardson will be tried together but each will have his own jury. They each face up to life in prison with a chance for parole if convicted in the toddler’s slaying.
By FRANCINE FRAZIER