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Slain girl ‘really loved God’

January 30, 2019

MaKaila Simon was by all accounts a quiet and kind ninth-grader at Lamar High School who liked dancing, sports and helping out younger kids.

But Simon, 15, will no longer be mentoring any children. On Sunday, she became the latest casualty in a spate of off-campus gun violence this academic year that has left at least four Lamar students dead.

“MaKaila — I’m serious — she really loved God,” said Gyuler Annette Green, pastor of the God’s Spirit of Faith Fellowship Church in north Houston. She had known MaKaila since she was seven or eight.

“This was a unique young girl,” said Green. “She had a level of maturity. She just wanted to see people happy.”

“She had a really good spirit,” Green added. “She just loved people.”

MaKaila’s violent end is not only a loss for her family and friends but also for Lamar, where students on the Upper Kirby campus this week grappled with the latest student death.

“I see a lot of my peers being killed,’’ said Delaney, 15, a sophomore. “It’s not something students should have to deal with.”

None of those interviewed earlier this week knew MaKaila, but they grieved for her. She died around 1:30 a.m. Sunday after her boyfriend apparently shot her by accident in the upstairs bedroom of a Spring home, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Officials have confirmed she attended Lamar High School.

Her boyfriend, Javon Martin, 17, was charged with criminally negligent homicide after authorities said he pointed a gun at Simon and pulled the trigger during a gathering at the home.

Videos from shortly before the incident, shared publicly by TV stations, show Martin and other teens playing with guns before the incident. In the video, Simon can be heard asking Martin to stop pointing the gun at her.

Then Martin pulled the trigger. The gun went off and MiKaila fell to the ground, prosecutors said.

Martin told authorities he’d checked to make sure the gun was not loaded — but it was. Simon died of a gunshot wound to the chest before first responders could get her to a hospital.

“You never point weapons at anyone,” said Thomas Gilliland, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

Simon’s death marks at least the fourth gun-related death of a Lamar student during the 2018-2019 school year. In November, authorities said Samuel Yeargain, 15, fatally shot Pierce Schwartz, 15, before turning the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide. Both were students at Lamar. Both were found with gunshot wounds to the head.

Less than a week later, another Lamar student, 18-year-old Delindsey Mack, was gunned down outside the campus in a killing authorities described as a targeted attack.

As Lamar students gathered in front of school earlier this week, several spoke with concern about the string of recent gun deaths.

Karman, a senior who did not give her age, said she had been friends with “Poppy” — the nickname for Delindsey Mack.

“I grew up in the hood, so it’s not so shocking,” Karman said when asked about the deaths of Mack and other students. “It is sad, though, that you can’t come to school and be safe.”

Before a Chronicle reporter could finish talking to students in front of the school, Lamar Principal Rita Graves asked that questions be directed to Houston Independent School District. HISD confirmed that one of its students had died but declined to comment any further.

“The Houston Independent School District is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of one of our students,” HISD said in a public statement. “Cases like this are always extremely difficult to bear and we will have grief counselors on campus tomorrow to assist students and staff. We offer our deepest condolences to the family and to all who loved and cared for our student.”

HISD Trustee Anne Sung added that as a former teacher, she recognizes what happens outside of school can often feel out of instructors’ control. Her District VII includes Lamar High School.

“It is a sad fact that gun violence affects children, unfortunately, at pretty much every school. In any large school you’re going to have children affected by gun violence,” she said. “I think we have to grapple with this as a society.”

Julie Kaplow, a pediatric psychologist and director of the Trauma and Grief Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, said grief is one of the strongest predictors of a student’s behavior and performance. “It’s been overlooked by many schools as a significant problem,” she said.

At school is the best place to reach out to grieving school-age kids, because that’s where kids spend their days, Kaplow said. She’s worked with schools to help them become more “trauma-informed” — though Lamar is not one of them.

Days before the trauma of MaKaila’s death, her mother put a glowing birthday post on social media.

“Makaila Simon was born on 1/24/04 she was pretty with chunky cheeks with pretty brown eyes,” Alicia Simon wrote. “She is my ride or die chick. She is growing up to be beautiful young lady and I’m so blessed to her in my life forever. Happy Birthday Baby Girl!!!!”

That was on Thursday, and Simon’s Facebook page was filled with congratulations and well wishes. By mid-day Sunday, it was filled with condolences and prayers.

“God give me strength to bear this pain,” Simon wrote.

Roy Simon, MaKaila’s father, also took to Facebook to share his pain.

“GOD give me strength to deal with this,” he wrote on Sunday.

On Monday, he shared a photo of MaKaila on Facebook. “Daddy missing you so much baby girl,” he wrote.

Green described the Simon family as “just people falling in love with God.” She described MaKaila as a “really respectful” young woman who mentored young girls and helped them “stay out of trouble.”

A memorial is scheduled for Saturday.

Samantha Ketterer contributed to this report

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