9-year-old shot with paintballs at Confederate monument was innocent bystander, mom says

3 years ago The Times-Picayune 0

It may have been Mother’s Day, but Bonnie Baber DePoi’s 9-year-old daughter had made her own request for Sunday (May 14) evening. The girl, Sabrina, wanted to spend some time at a playground, so the family jumped in their car and headed to City Park.

DePoi and her sister, Becky Baber, who was in town that day, had one quick stop to make on the way: the monument to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who they had been told as children was related to them and whose likeness at the park’s entrance has been the site of protests over Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plans to remove four post-Civil War monuments from city property.

DePoi and her daughter were pulled into the controversy when Sabrina was struck by paintball pellets from a passing vehicle as she played next to the monument.

After the incident, New Orleans Police Department officers arrested four teenagers Sunday night who they say fired the shots, which also injured a 41-year-old man.

“There are people who will say that was no place to bring an 8- or 9-year old child, that that was crazy,” DePoi said. “I have to say, I just didn’t realize the significance and the level of hate and the violence and everything else that’s gone along with this issue. It brings out the best and the worst in people.”

DePoi has no proof or family tree to show exactly how her family is related to Beauregard, a St. Bernard Parish native. It was a story her maternal grandmother and great-aunt would share, but it’s not why DePoi and her sister decided to visit the monument.

“We think the Beauregard statue — regardless of who’s on the horse or whatever — we always thought it was a compelling piece of art, from its prominence and that it’s part of the landscape in a compelling way,” DePoi said. “I’ve always loved horses, and it’s an equestrian statue.”

All indications this week pointed to Beauregard, whose bronze image rides atop the horse, becoming the next Confederate figure to be taken off his pedestal following the removals of the Jefferson Davis statue and an obelisk commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place. Knowing the monument might not be there much longer, DePoi pulled over on her way to the playground to snap one last photo.

The image would serve as a tribute to DePoi’s and Baber’s mother, Peggy Baber, according to DePoi. Their mother, who died recently, had raised and ridden horses throughout her life, and the Beauregard statue was one of her favorites.

Just before 8 p.m. Sunday, they were finishing up and getting ready to leave the circular green space surrounding Beauregard’s monument while it was still daylight, DePoi said. Sabrina was running around with two other children who were there.

“We were just chatting with various people, and the next thing I know, she’s been hit with paintballs,” DePoi said. “I don’t know if they were aiming for her, but they hit her.”

The paintballs struck Sabrina in the chest and arm.

“Anything that breaks the skin and burns and stings like that, it is pretty serious,” DePoi said. “She could have been blinded for life if this hit her eye. I was grateful it wasn’t more serious.”

Since the incident, DePoi said some people have told her to try to pursue charges against the teens or to have the incident classified as a hate crime, but she’s hesitant to get further entangled in any issues linked to monument protesters.

“I don’t want to get involved and make her a martyr,” DePoi said.

As for Sabrina, DePoi said the 9-year-old found the 2016 presidential election exhausting to hear about, so she has avoided having too many conversations about the specifics of the monument controversy since Sunday night.

“I don’t want her to take sides in an issue at this age,” DePoi said. “I did explain to her that the mayor of our city wants to take down some historical monuments because he thinks they’re inappropriate or a nuisance, and there’s other people who growing up have seen these statues all their lives and don’t necessarily feel that way. … She’s mature enough to handle anything I throw at her, and I’m just not trying to sway her opinion.”