By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Following the shooting death of a sleeping 12-year-old girl, an emotional Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin struggled to speak about the incident at a press conference Wednesday morning.
At almost 2 a.m. Wednesday, Audriana Pearson, a seventh-grader at Eugene Brown Erwin Middle School in Center Point, was shot and killed when an unknown gunman fired 17 bullets into her home, according to Woodfin.
While many families are looking forward to Christmas, only a few days away, Audriana’s family have been stricken with grief, Woodfin said.
“Most families are excited about what’s to come in four days. I think a lot of that will be around anticipation and excitement for their children being able to wake up early in the morning, in their pajamas, to be in a position to open up their gifts, to be able to celebrate and be with their family, but Audriana’s family will not necessarily have that excitement,” Woodfin said.
Affectionately known as “Minnie,” Woodfin said, Audriana was set to turn 13 on Jan. 17. She asked for a pink iPad and a set of Apple AirPods for Christmas.
“But she won’t be able to open either of those gifts,” said Woodfin before a long pause in which he seemed to gather himself.
Through speaking with Audriana’s mother Woodfin said he could feel her grief and pain “through the phone, through her tears.”
“I’m usually able to stand up here and have all the strength to push past how I feel about the situation. I guess this one just hits differently because it’s an innocent child…At two in the morning, there’s a reasonable, fair expectation that the bed is a very safe place for your child, that no mother expects to enter a room and see her child slumped over, with no more life in her,” Woodfin said.
The mayor said the city has undertaken numerous initiatives to stop the flow of homicides in Birmingham but that state government has his hands “tied behind my back” and that the federal government has placed a “blindfold” over his eyes.
“Both of those tiers of government above municipal government have the power to do something about gun laws and gun laws in the state of Alabama, and one is choosing to do the opposite, and the others aren’t doing anything,” Woodfin said.
“If I had the power, gun laws would be different in Birmingham than anywhere else in the state of Alabama since there’s an actual Birmingham problem, but I don’t have home rule, so I’m not given that authority,” he added.
Also at the press conference, Woodfin urged residents “stay inside” during a cold-front coming to the city which could be life-threatening without proper precautions, according to the National Weather Service.
“Long-time exposures to bitterly cold temperatures and wind chills could result in hypothermia,” Woodfin said.
Wind chills through the weekend could reach down between zero and negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.
Through a partnership with the Jimmie Hale Mission homeless shelter and the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC), the city of Birmingham will be providing a 24-hour warming shelter at the BJCC South Exhibition Hall from 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Water and food will be available at the warming stations, which Woodfin said may remain open after Sunday, depending on the weather conditions.
The city will also be closing Messer Airport Highway, between 31st and 33rd Streets, from Thursday through Monday to keep people away from an icy road.
In addition to staying out of the cold, Woodfin said residents should take all precautions necessary to protect themselves, their families and their homes.
“Please protect your home and pipes. Protect your family. Protect your pets, and particularly those who cannot withstand severe cold weather. Please share the information about the 24 hour shelter,” Woodfin said.