At 13, Gabriel Clarke’s faith runs deep.
A junior deacon who also sings tenor in the choir at his Roxbury church, Clarke walks the burgundy-carpeted aisles during services, helping worshipers to their seats and taking up the offering. When his pastor asks for help, Clarke is the first to volunteer. When he once led a prayer during youth services, Clarke “brought down the house” with a hopeful prayer for safety, a church member recalled.
On Friday night, that hope was shattered.
As Clarke hurried down Humboldt Avenue from his home to a 7 p.m. choir practice, an unknown assailant in a car pulled up and shot him once in the stomach. Clarke was rushed to Boston Medical Center for emergency surgery that would save his life.
Meanwhile, his mother was at her own choir rehearsal at the church and noticed that her son was late.
“I texted him, and I told him he should be at church,” Shirley Clarke recounted Friday at Boston Medical Center, as her son was being operated on. “And about 10 minutes after, I got a call from the police and they told me he was in an accident.”
Clarke’s family and his pastor at the Berea Seventh Day Adventist Church on Seaver Street, the Rev. Nigel G. David Sr., rushed to the hospital.
“I didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” David said. “When I got there, Gabriel was in emergency surgery. . . . His mom was crying.”
Clarke’s mother, sister, and uncle kept vigil as the four-hour surgery progressed, David said. He said a “very helpful” hospital trauma counselor talked to them during the agonizing wait. Police dropped in every hour or so, he said, offering their sympathy and assuring Clarke’s family that they were making every effort to find the shooter.
Eventually, doctors emerged with good news: Clarke would be OK.
David and Clarke’s family were “overwhelmed,” he said. “I honestly believe this is nothing short of a miracle.”
David said that while the bullet did not puncture any of Clarke’s major organs, the boy is “in a lot of pain.” But, he said, “they think he’ll make it.”
Shirley Clarke, Gabriel’s mother, is upset and overwhelmed, but “holding up well,” David said.
Police have not identified a suspect in the case but are actively investigating and asking that anyone with knowledge of the incident contact them, said a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department.
David described Clarke as an unfailingly helpful boy who often tried to get his friends to attend services at the church.
“He can be a little bit quiet, but he’s very friendly,” David said. “He’s been nothing but a blessing to me.”
When Clarke volunteered to lead the church in prayer during youth services, he “brought down the house,” said Elizabeth Stewart of Everett, a member of the congregation for 10 years.
His prayers were often very mature, she said.
“He would pray for safety, safety was a big thing he prayed for,” Stewart said. “Safety, and provision, and God’s guidance.”
Gabriel has two older sisters, one of whom is on a military tour in Korea. The family is very active in the church, Stewart said.
“I’ve just watched him grow up,” she said. “Such a lovely young man.”
Gabriel’s participation in church activities was impressive, said Elder Samuel Winston, who has been with the church since 1965.
“He’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
The brazen attack on Clarke, one of the city’s youngest victims of gun violence in recent memory, prompted outrage from community leaders and city officials Saturday.
“I was frustrated and angry last night,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston said in an interview. City officials who work in the neighborhood have been with the family since the shooting, he said.
“It just frustrates the heck out of you,” said Menino, who reiterated his call for tougher gun laws. “You do everything you can to make your streets safe, and then some knuckleheads do that.”
Councilor Charles C. Yancey stopped by the church early Saturday afternoon to offer David and the congregation his support.
“Thank God, this young man, he’s a fighter.”
Yancey also condemned gun violence in the neighborhood. “There’s nothing inevitable about this type of attack against children,” he said. “The entire community is outraged.”
Members of Boston’s faith community also denounced the attack and are planning to hold a prayer gathering Wednesday night at Clarke’s church.
“This was just horrible,” said the Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.
Culpepper said his parishioners felt “outrage and frustration,” especially since Clarke is known as a “good kid” who stayed out of trouble.
“Everyone is concerned because it was not just a 13-year-old kid, but a 13-year-old kid on his way to church with no involvement in any of the violence that has taken place in the past,” he said.
Culpepper called the incident a setback to successful antiviolence programs run by various neighborhood groups.
“We’ve had peace in that area for quite some time,” Culpepper said. “I think what happened is, after you had peace for so long, people become accustomed to it, they drop their guard.”
Other community leaders called for swift justice.
“I hope that this gets solved quickly and we really show the community that there is law and order,” said Monalisa Smith, founder of the Boston antiviolence group Mothers For Justice and Equality. Her nephew, Eric Smith, was gunned down in 2010; his case remains unsolved.
Smith said she would offer her sympathy to Clarke’s family, but knows words give little comfort.
“What can we say? There’s no words,” she said. “You don’t know where to start. All you can do is just embrace them and show them that you are there when they need you.”
The Humboldt Avenue area has been the scene of other shootings involving young victims, including one of the city’s most notorious shooting deaths. In August 1988, 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore was killed as she sat on a mailbox on Humboldt, caught in a gang-related shootout. The case provoked national outrage.
The Friday shooting is also not far from the Academy Homes housing development, where 9-year-old Jermaine Goffigan was shot and killed on Halloween night in 1994.
In the cases of both Moore and Goffigan, the men originally imprisoned for the crimes were later freed when new evidence emerged exonerating them.
In 2002, in a park named for Goffigan off Blue Hill Avenue, 10-year-old Trina Persad was fatally shot in the face with a shotgun. Prosecutors said the bullet was fired by then-18-year-old Joseph Cousin, and was intended for a rival gang member.
Friday’s news that a 13-year-old had been shot was especially jarring for Kim Odom, whose son Steven was also 13 when he was shot and killed in Dorchester in 2007.
“My heart, it just sinks every time I hear of shootings,” Odom said, her voice breaking as she noted that her son was the same age as Clarke. “It’s really been a very emotional day for me . . . ”
Odom called gun violence a cancer and slammed political leaders for repeatedly failing to act after the spotlight fades on a violent act.
“We’re going around in circles about things that would save lives,” she said. “It is so, so frustrating to watch.”
Odom, who along with her husband is a pastor at the True Vine Church in Dorchester, often talks in Boston schools about the need for peace.
“One girl said to me, ‘Ms. Odom, I asked my mom for a bulletproof vest for when I go outside to play,’ ” Odom said. “I got a knot in my throat. How can I respond to this baby that just said this to me?
“How can I make her know that there are people trying to protect her and take up that burden?” Odom said, bursting into tears. “I said, ‘You know what, I’m afraid sometimes, too. But I’m praying, and I want you to know there are adults doing their best to make sure you’re safe.’ ”
Odom paused to collect herself.
“But even as I was saying it, I felt like it wasn’t enough. Because that’s her reality. It’s the reality of all of our children. That’s what they’re living in. That’s what they’re living through.”