Gabriela Kinard had a split-second decision to make the night of Dec. 13: Save herself, or save her little sister.
She chose both. But she doesn't consider herself a hero. When people laud the soft-voiced 15-year-old's bravery, Gabriela simply says, "Thank you."
To people who don't know her, Gabriela's name may simply call to mind yet another woeful story of domestic violence. But to those who know what she's gone through, she's a bona fide hero.
Last month, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, her mother's ex-boyfriend showed up at their east Charlotte home and began shooting. Gabriela's mother, Gabrille Kinard, was shot. So was her brother, 18-year-old Anjelo. And when Gabriela tried to flee with her five-month-old sister in her arms, she too was shot.
Police say Gabrille Kinard died at the scene. Anjelo Kinard held on before dying in the early Dec. 15 morning at Carolinas Medical Center. Scott Davis was charged with their murders. And yet another family was left to deal with domestic violence-related deaths.
Today, Gabriela and her family are piecing their lives together as best they can. After her release from the hospital, Gabriela and her sister went to live with an aunt and uncle. The uncle, Gerard Vidale, had two immediate goals: to get them safe and restore normalcy to their lives. "I didn't want them to have to worry about anything," he says.
Looking at 15-year-old Gabriela, she seems as if she's a typical teenager. She dresses in trendy clothes and her smile lights up her face. But bubbling underneath the surface are emotions that she'll more than likely have to deal with the rest of her life.
Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her face as she spoke to Creative Loafing about her mother. "It's difficult to keep thinking about what happened, but I know I'm fine with my aunt and uncle," says Gabriela.
Because the murder charges against alleged shooter Scott Davis is pending, Gabriela wasn't able to go into details about what happened that night. But her voice was strong and unwavering when she spoke about saving her sister. "I felt like she needed to experience life, and she didn't need to be in that danger," she says. "And I know my mom would've wanted me to take her away from that dangerous situation."
Vidale says the family is using support from friends and loved ones, as well as professional therapists, to heal.
Valentina Story, who worked with Gabriela's mother at Charlotte Area Transit System, where Gabrille Kinard was a driver, wanted to make sure Gabriela received recognition for her bravery and knew that others were pulling for her. "I didn't want her to get stuck in an unhappy heart," Story says.
That's why Story created a special plaque for Gabriela that reads, "You are an angel of courage. Your strength is an inspiration to all women."
Gabriela's perseverance would send a message, Story says. "She needs to understand that by doing good and looking good and being successful, it lets that perpetrator know that, 'You may have taken something from me, but I'm still here.'"
Vidale hopes one of the main lessons his niece learns from the tragedy is not to befriend anyone who doesn't respect her. "Don't lower your standards to theirs," he says. "If you start giving into these things, you lose your identity."
Gabriela is focused on the future. College is in her plans, but she's not sure what she plans to study. She wouldn't mind talking to other children who have witnessed domestic violence -- maybe her story could save someone else, she hopes.
When her little sister grows up, Gabriela says she's going to tell her how strong their mother was and how much she loved all her children. She'll also warn her against abusive partners. "You don't need anyone in your life to try and interrupt what you're trying to do," Gabriela says. "Leave before it's too late. Someone who's not helping you in your life shouldn't be a part of it."