Sacramento Bee


With one bullet, dozens of lives were upended.

Several children, including a 6-year-old and the victim’s brother, witnessed the metal ripping through a Sacramento County boy’s neck, blood pooling around his bike gifted on Christmas. His mother’s heartbreaking screams shattered the relaxing December holidays.

Parents must now confront a devastating reality: explaining violence wrought by guns to young minds after Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson, 10, was shot in the neck and killed Dec. 30 in the Foothill Farms section of Sacramento County. The accused killer, another 10-year-old boy whose name has not been publicly released, fired his father’s gun after losing a bike race in the Hillsdale Oaks condo community, according to Britani Fierson, KJ’s mother.

Adverse childhood experiences — such as experiencing bloodshed — leave a lasting impression on children, said Montay McDaniel, a therapist with Strive Community Health, a Sacramento-based clinic and counseling service. Many may suffer post-traumatic symptoms such as heightened levels of stress, a lack of sleep, cold sweats or crying uncontrollably, he said.

“In a million years, I never would have thought that myself or Brittani (Frierson) would ever have to explain gun violence to these kids,” April Lewis, whose child was KJ’s close friend, said in a phone interview.

The 10-year-old believed to be responsible for pulling the trigger won’t face charges in the death, Frierson said. His father, Arkete Davis pleaded not guilty last week to having a firearm that a child could easily access, leading to the death of another minor; two counts of child endangerment; having a firearm as a felon; having ammunition when prohibited from doing so; and destroying evidence.

Willie Charles comforts his daughter Brittani Frierson, mother of Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson, 10, on Friday, after a court appearance by Arkete Turan Davis, 53, the father of another 10-year-old who is suspected of shooting “KJ” with a stolen gun in Davis’ car.Willie Charles comforts his daughter Brittani Frierson, mother of Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson, 10, on Friday, after a court appearance by Arkete Turan Davis, 53, the father of another 10-year-old who is suspected of shooting “KJ” with a stolen gun in Davis’ car.

Willie Charles comforts his daughter Brittani Frierson, mother of Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson, 10, on Friday, after a court appearance by Arkete Turan Davis, 53, the father of another 10-year-old who is suspected of shooting “KJ” with a stolen gun in Davis’ car.

“That family is holding their child right now,” Fierson said Friday outside the Main Jail in downtown Sacramento. The family held a second day of demonstrations calling for justice for their slain son. “I am about to go bury mine.”

Davis, 53, is accused of asking his son to go get cigarettes from his car, where the gun had been left, according to authorities. He’s also accused of hiding the gun from investigators after the deadly shot, prosecutors said, throwing the gun in a trashcan.

Lewis’ 11-year-old child, Jeremiah, and KJ were “two peas in a pod” who played video games together and rode bikes.

She said she didn’t immediately tell Jeremiah when KJ died because it happened during Christmas vacation. But when she did, Jeremiah cried under his blanket for an hour.

‘He’s mad he doesn’t understand why they took him’

“He’s mad,” Lewis said. “He hurts. He’s mad he doesn’t understand why they took him.”

Lewis said Jeremiah plays by himself now, rather than with other kids in the collection of four-plexes that back up to Interstate 80.

Jeremiah doesn’t understand why another boy would kill his friend, when his mom taught him about never pointing guns.

To help him, Lewis tells Jeremiah she’s here to talk and understand what he’s going through. He also has a counselor and she keeps track of troubling signs, such as isolating himself or angry outbursts.

“It just hurts my heart,” Lewis said.

Seeing violence can inform children it’s OK to use violence to express anger, frustration, sadness and disappointment, McDaniel said.

Kids, especially African American boys, often don’t have a language to describe their feelings, said McDaniel, who is Black. And, there’s very rarely a conversation about how to deal with conflict without anger, he said.

Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Paris Coleman said in court there was no malice behind KJ’s shooting and no evidence to support a murder charge. He added in court that Davis faces the sole criminal responsibility for KJ’s death.

McDaniel added parents can help their children identify what feelings they are experiencing and talk through them. De-escalating emotions can also help, by mindfulness, breathing or walking.

Adults can equip kids with a “soft word” to say when they are feeling a certain emotion, McDaniel said. For example, the word pineapple can equate to more volatile emotions, while marshmallow relates to softer sentiments. Parents can then ask which food more describes feelings.

Neighborhood residents: ‘Who did this to this baby?’

Terrica Howard cannot park her car close to her condo anymore. She parks farther away so she doesn’t see the spot where KJ died that Saturday.

The memory — of a 10-year-old lifeless body surrounded by blood — replays in her head often and has snatched away sleep since KJ died, Howard said.

“Who did this to this baby?” Howard remembers thinking upon hearing a gunshot and seeing KJ. “That’s a baby.”

Neighbors described KJ and his brother as two well-behaved, sweet boys. KJ played football and wanted to be a police officer, family said.

Dozens of candles, toys and other memorabilia fill the area where Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson was shot and killed on Dec. 30 in Hillsdale Oaks condo community of Foothill Farms. The boy accused of firing the gun will not be charged but his father, who left the gun in a car, faces multiple charges.Dozens of candles, toys and other memorabilia fill the area where Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson was shot and killed on Dec. 30 in Hillsdale Oaks condo community of Foothill Farms. The boy accused of firing the gun will not be charged but his father, who left the gun in a car, faces multiple charges.

Dozens of candles, toys and other memorabilia fill the area where Keith Jhay “KJ” Frierson was shot and killed on Dec. 30 in Hillsdale Oaks condo community of Foothill Farms. The boy accused of firing the gun will not be charged but his father, who left the gun in a car, faces multiple charges.

For Larry Houghton, another resident of the Hillsdale Oaks condos, the shooting sped up his decision to leave his job.

He said he worries about his children’s safety — while at work, he cannot prevent them from playing outside. After KJ’s death, and seeing the aftermath, he’s said on high alert.

His 11-year-old son knew KJ, Howard said. The child knows his friend is gone.

But it’s difficult to answer questions when his 11-year-old asks what happened, Howard said, looking at dozens of candles and teddy bears and toys now filling the space where KJ died.

The father said he doesn’t quite know how to describe KJ’s manner of death or explain that another boy pulled the trigger.

‘Tragic and completely avoidable’

Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper called the incident “tragic and completely avoidable.”

“As more details of the incident come to light, there is definitely a concern about irresponsible parenting and that an ex-felon was illegally in possession of a firearm that led to this young boy’s murder,” Cooper said on X, the social media platform once called Twitter. “Not to be missed, all this happened in front of another 6-year-old child who saw the whole thing. The trauma that child experienced always gets overlooked.”

Cooper said that of the 34 homicides investigated by the Sheriff’s Office in 2023 that involved a firearm, “76% of them were committed by people not allowed by law to have a gun in the first place.”

“We cannot let this boy’s murder be a one-day news story and forgotten about by tomorrow morning,” Cooper wrote. “The issue of illegally possessing guns by those who should not have them and using them to commit violent crimes is a real one. One that the Sheriff’s Department will address in 2024.”

Several residents of Hillsdale Oaks who described their mental health as “rough.” Many of them were reluctant to speak on the record about the Davis family, the boy or how they’ve felt in the days since the killing.

Howard said she worries for her twin daughters who saw KJ’s body and the crime scene, and deputies and Metro Fire’s attempts to revive the child before he was pronounced dead at nearby Mercy San Juan hospital.

The 12-year-olds aren’t allowed to play outside because violence like this, Howard said.

The incident motivated her to spend Friday trying to create positive experiences, such as shopping, getting a manicure and going to the hair salon before school returns from winter break on Monday.

Davis’ mother declined to talk to reporters Friday when she appeared to watch her son at a bail review hearing. Davis remains ineligible for bail until at least Wednesday when he’ll appear in court again.

The defendant’s attorney, Linda Parisi, said she’s waiting on Sheriff’s Office reports and couldn’t comment directly on the case. She added the case was a tragedy and the family is going through a difficult time.

Davis’ family didn’t respond to a note at their residence left by a reporter.



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