Crack. The bullet whizzed forward. Straight through little Honesty Townsend’s chin. Then her neck, her trachea, her spine. Then the door behind her, a wall, another door. Puncture, puncture, puncture.
In the next room, the projectile that changed everything plopped into a shoe. An investigator later collected it as evidence.
Honesty, 3, lay bleeding, quiet. Her mother erupted in screams.
“She died three times” as medics later worked on her, said Honesty’s father, Richard Barnes, 34. He had just stepped into his northeast valley home Oct. 16 when he heard the gunshot.
Las Vegas police haven’t determined who pulled the trigger, but investigators believe it may have been one of Honesty’s three siblings.
A few hours later, their mother, Shaletres Townsend, was in handcuffs.
SCREAMS, THEN SIRENS
Townsend, 30, can’t explain what happened. She wasn’t in the room the moment Honesty was shot with her gun.
The mother’s first reaction was panic. While her husband, who had just arrived, called 911, and her husband’s friend, who also had just arrived, started CPR, Townsend screamed and screamed.
She pleaded out loud for paramedics to arrive faster. She ran outside, to flag them down. She ran inside, to be with her daughter.
She zigzagged back and forth, continuously screaming. Soon, sirens.
Help came, but so did questions. And she couldn’t answer them.
She thought the door to her master bedroom, where Honesty was hit, had been locked. She could have sworn it was locked. Why was it open?
Sick to her stomach in worry, Townsend did her best to answer the police, she said. She had never been in trouble before. No arrests. No criminal record. She was nervous for herself, but more so for her baby.
She thought the gun was in a holster, on a chair. She said she moved it after the shooting to the kitchen table, where police found it.
Townsend was held at the Clark County Detention Center until Thursday, when she bailed out. As part of a guilty plea agreement, her $100,000 bail had been reduced to $20,000, and her four child neglect charges were consolidated into one.
She never got the chance to see Honesty before she was arrested. A combination of stress, anxiety and depression in jail caused Townsend to shed 15 pounds in less than a month.
All she could think about was her little girl, just two miles away in a hospital bed.
“I’m trying not to cry,” Townsend said during a recent jail interview. “All I’ve been doing is crying and crying and crying.”
She’s sick, too, she said. She has tumors her doctors tell her are genetic. She’s supposed to receive monthly treatment from Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada. In custody, she made do with the off-brand pain pills available to her.
She doesn’t complain, she said, for Honesty.
“Maybe the gun should have been in a gun safe,” she said, her eyes sunken and exhausted. The couple had one in their closet, which Barnes pointed out to police. He surrendered all of his firearms as part of the investigation.
Townsend had been robbed at gunpoint before, she said. She knows that doesn’t justify what happened. But it’s why the gun was in her purse, or so she thought, in the locked room, or so she thought.
She never thought one of her children would get hold of it, would fire it, would nearly kill a sibling. Her youngest daughter.
“This literally just turned my life upside down,” she said. “It’s just … crazy. Every day, I just pray.”
Honesty can’t explain what happened, either. Doctors don’t know whether she’ll ever be able to speak.
She’s had at least two surgeries at University Medical Center, where she was rushed after the shooting in full cardiac arrest. A tube was placed in her throat to help her breathe as she recovers.
Day after day, she lies still in bed, watching cartoons as nurses come and go, checking on her vitals, using a vacuum to suck spit from her mouth.
She’s at least partially paralyzed. Doctors don’t know whether she’ll ever be able to walk.
Her only consistent movement is in her eyes, which she rolls often.
“Got a little attitude?” one nurse asked on a recent afternoon. Honesty flashed her a sassy side-eye, and the nurse laughed.
“Honesty is my baby,” Barnes said at her bedside recently. His biological baby, he clarified, though he cares for and raises Townsend’s three other children like his own.
Each day, after he takes the other children to school, after he works, after he picks the children up again, after he drops them off at his mother’s house, he drives to the hospital.
He knows the way to Honesty’s room by heart. There’s the familiar man at the front counter, who now hands him a visitor’s pass without exchanging words.
Then the elevator, which he always boards about 4 p.m. The button for Level 2. A doorway.
Then, his little girl.
The arrest report, which typically details what happened in the moments before an in incident, is vague, because no adults witnessed the shooting.
Police also can’t comment on the open investigation, which is one of three cases this year in which a child was shot by an unsecured firearm.
In three other cases, children killed themselves using their parents’ unsecured firearms.
The report did note that the hands of Honesty’s siblings were swabbed for gunshot residue. The results should indicate who pulled the trigger, who will need counseling and therapy to live and grow with the memory of that gunshot and everything that happened afterward.
Townsend’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 27.
The couple, who had known each other since childhood, married on Oct. 9, Barnes’ birthday. A week before everything fell apart.
At the hospital, with Honesty, Barnes shows the little girl photos of her mom on his cellphone.
“She’s a good mother,” he said. “She doesn’t go to the club. She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t smoke. She likes to eat and watch movies with her kids. And everybody’s making her look like a monster.”
Still, the reality of what the shooting did to his once loud and silly little girl weighs on him.
“You goin’ be all right,” he cooed to Honesty as she watched a movie in her hospital bed, her chin tucked under her neck brace. “You goin’ be all right, baby.”
Honesty shifted her eyes from the television, then looked up at Barnes.
“I pray for you every day, don’t I?” he said to his daughter. “I pray for you to be healthy and strong, huh? In Jesus’ name, I pray every day.”
A tiny tear dropped down Honesty’s cheek.
Contact Rachel Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.
“She suffered a gunshot wound to her neck. Her heart stopped beating prior to arrival at our trauma center, but we are able to revive her. Her paralysis is likely permanent. In rare cases a small amount of spinal cord function may return, but that is not common.
“Her life has been irreparably changed. She will require a breathing machine and feeding tube for a long time. She will not get to run, jump and play like kids love to do. She will never be the same again.”
Paul J. Chestovich, M.D., UMC trauma surgeon