Firebombs and bullets terrorize family
Flames and bullets in Palmetto may have been meant for adjacent home
By ANTHONY CORMIER
She awoke at 4 a.m. Sunday with smoke in her lungs and fire at her window.
Her children snuggled next to her in bed.
Nanise Raymond sat up straight.
Something, someone, rustled in the bushes outside.
Raymond, 21, ran into a hallway.
"Mama," she called, "the house is on fire."
Her disabled mother struggled to get out of her bed, while her sister, six months pregnant, jumped up. As the family of women and children ran out of the house, Nanise leading the way, her children right behind, they were met with gunfire.
Nanise took a bullet in her knee.
In the end, it was probably a mistake.
The Raymond family was likely not the intended victim of the bizarre crime that left their duplex scorched and sent Nanise Raymond into surgery Sunday morning.
Friends and neighbors said that the attackers were targeting a 25-year-old linked to a fatal shooting last week in Rubonia. In that case, prosecutors say China T. Smith admitted his involvement in the Rubonia killing. Smith's mother lives next door to the Raymonds, and the two families discussed the possibility of retaliation against Smith sometime over the weekend.
Several neighbors had warned the sheriff's office that violence was likely to come to their cul-de-sac. They asked for, and noticed, extra patrols.
But their fears were realized early Sunday when, deputies said, two men threw Molotov cocktails -- beer bottles, likely, filled with gasoline or alcohol -- into the Raymond home and shot at the family as they tried to escape.
In the hallway, Raymond again called to her mother.
Valencia Raymond, 45, hobbled to the door as a window smashed behind her and a beer bottle came flying through. It exploded on the floor, sending flames creeping onto the walls and the sofa and the carpet.
The women gathered the children, 2 and 3 years old. Valencia's second daughter, Misha, who is pregnant, crept along a wall.
The family moved slowly, covering their noses. Nanise made it out first. A man in a hood watched her, leveled a pistol and started firing, she said.
Another man, dressed in black, ran around a corner and began shooting, too. The family tumbled back into the living room. Nanise screamed, and fell near the sofa.
Misha and the children scrambled into the back bedroom. The children wiggled under the bed. Misha squeezed between a wall and a dresser.
Three-year-old Anayshia told her sister not to worry. The children are deathly afraid of firecrackers. They call them "cracker fires," and will not even go to the Fourth of July festival because of the noise.
Under the bed, Anayshia told her sister: "Don't worry, we'll leave when those men are done with their cracker fires."
In the hallway, glass sprayed in Valencia's lap. The stuffing of her couch got tangled in her hair. A bullet thumped off a chair, and Valencia dropped to the floor, closed her eyes and pretended she was dead.
Nanise was crying. Her knee was bloody. The bullets seemed to stop, and Valencia opened her eyes.
We've got to get out, she thought, or else it will be the fire that gets us. She screamed at her daughters, "Now! Let's go now!"
Soon, neighbors started running over. The children ran into the cul-de-sac. Someone ran through the front door and dragged Nanise into the street where the blood from her wounds stained the concrete. Misha was doubled over in pain and sat near the grass.
Valencia, who has elephantiasis of the leg, leaned on one of the neighbors and stumbled off the porch. She heard a fire engine down the street.
There is speculation in the neighborhood that the Raymonds were mistakenly targeted, that the shadowy figures who threw homemade bombs and tried to kill the family were looking for someone else.
On Thursday night, a man in Rubonia was shot to death after a dispute over drugs, deputies said. Prosecutors said that China T. Smith, whose mother lived next door to the Raymond family, confessed to the Rubonia shooting.
He was not charged, however. Still, Smith turned himself in on an unrelated drug charge but was released on bail over the weekend.
A family friend, Shavonda Bailey, said that Smith went into hiding when his rivals promised to kill him.
"These guys weren't looking for this family," Bailey said. "They just got the wrong house."
Valencia feared a possible retaliation.
She knew Smith, calling him "a good kid." But she also knew that he was in trouble, and that her family could get caught up in the ensuing violence.
"What can I do?" she asked. "I can't move. I've got nowhere to go."
Now she has nothing left to return to. The American Red Cross has set up the family in a local hotel, but only for three days.
They have little money and the landlord at Palmetto Village would not say Sunday whether he planned to put them in another property.
With little money, no clothes and no place to go once they have to leave the hotel, at least, Valencia says, they still have their van, a gift long ago from TV host Maury Povich.
Not Povich himself, but his producers, who, because of Valencia's condition -- lymphedema, also known as elephantiasis -- invited her on the TV program quite often.
The condition causes Valencia's legs to swell grotesquely, blood building and building until she sometimes doubles over in pain and cries and finds it easier to sit at home than go outside.
She had always wanted a van. She used to ride with her mother to church in one on Sundays, and figured if she had one she could watch her son's football games at Palmetto High School.
So the Povich producers arranged for Kia to give her the van, and it became just about her favorite thing.
Except that, too, is gone, its bumper a melted, twisted mess.
Valencia thought the van made it, that maybe that was the only thing they had left to call their own.
When Valencia found out it, too, had been destroyed, she cried.