‘The first thing they would say is that he had a great smile’
The 8-year-old boy fatally shot while he slept in his bed Saturday, making him Kansas City’s youngest homicide victim this year, was just days away from starting fourth grade.
At Center Elementary, Brian Bartlett was a happy, energetic and kind student who enjoyed learning math, the Center School District said Monday.
As a member of the robotics team, Brian might have grown up to be a scientist or engineer, one educator guessed.
“That’s what’s so sad in all of this — we just don’t know,” said Stacy King, director of family and student services at the district, adding that Brian could have grown up to give back to his community. “We will never know what could have been.”
Brian was killed as he slept about 11:30 p.m. Saturday night when more than 30 bullets ripped through his mother’s home in the 8300 block of Tracy Avenue. He was weeks away from his ninth birthday.
Brian’s mother was also seriously injured. She was rushed to a hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg, according to police. She was expected to survive.
“The news of his loss breaks our hearts,” the Center School District said in a statement. “Our school community is a family and we are all feeling the weight of this tragedy.”
Police said there were no updates in the ongoing investigation. No arrests have been made and no information about a motive has been released. Investigators also have no suspect information, the department said.
During an interview Monday, King said she cried when she heard about Brian’s death. He was set to start school Wednesday.
Anyone who met Brian remembered him for his great smile and passion for learning, King said. He embraced new students and worked collaboratively with others to solve problems on the school’s robotics team.
Brian is the youngest homicide victim this year in Kansas City and the 11th person slain here in the last two weeks. Brian’s killing also marked Kansas City’s 90th homicide of the year, according to The Star’s data, which includes police shootings.
Knowing Brian was the city’s youngest victim, King said, “honestly takes my breath away.”
On Monday, lettered tags used by police investigators still marked the bullet holes on the house. A red toy football sat in the yard.
Louis Garrett, who lives across the street from the home where the mother and son stayed, said “the young man didn’t even get a chance to see what life was all about.”
A group of neighbors set up a makeshift memorial on the family’s front porch with flowers, stuffed animals and toys.
A letter offered prayers and condolences to the mother. The letter called Brian “an angel in the sky in a much better place, in the arms of Jesus.”
Brandy and Jason Johnson live a few houses down the block. The shooting angered Jason Johnson.
“I hope they can get some justice for this little guy,” he said.
Brandy Johnson said Brian’s mom always walked him to the bus stop.
“She was a mom who cared,” Brandy Johnson said.
Brian’s mother could not be reached by The Star on Monday.
King described her as doting. She was very protective of Brian and wanted the best for her son, the educator said.
Brian’s family set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds for his burial and additional money to support his mother, whose “arms he died in,” according to the fundraiser. Kansas City police said its victim services office confirmed the account was created by the family.
In a statement on Twitter, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Brian was exceptionally bright, loved playing with LEGOs and was excited about the start of school. His mother, the prosecutor said, had planned to take him to get a backpack Sunday.
“I know we are tired, even exasperated, but we must also feel the outrage over this little boy’s death,” Baker said. “His short life ended and all of his future contributions to this community are gone, too.”
Baker added: “Justice must not be denied!”
Mayor Quinton Lucas on Monday said he was heartbroken “our community couldn’t protect our youngest.” He asked those looking to do something to offer love and mentorship to Brian’s schoolmates who were “experiencing tragedy before school even starts.”
King said the school district was working to meet the mental health needs of grieving staff and students. Counselors are helping those who knew Brian, but also students dealing with secondary trauma who have experienced gun violence in other ways before.
Kansas City police said officers will join community volunteers Tuesday to canvass the area. Members of the Justice and Dignity Center will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday at 83rd Terrace and Tracy Avenue to gather information from anyone who may have seen something.
Volunteers wanting to join the effort are urged to contact Bishop Tony Caldwell at the Justice and Dignity Center at 816-612-7040.
“Every homicide in our city is a tragedy, but when an innocent 8-year-old boy dies while sleeping in his bed, it’s an especially heinous crime,” Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said in a statement.
Anyone with information about the homicide was asked to call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).
The Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission earlier this year announced it had increased the reward offered for tips in Kansas City homicides to $25,000.
“We as a community have to condemn this behavior through taking action,” said Damon Daniel, president of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. “Those who’ve seen and heard about this senseless violent crime need to break their silence and help us end the violence.”