Correction: LifeNews erred in reporting about Washington, D.C. laws and the recognition of the twins as victims of a crime. Because the babies were born alive and lived outside the womb before they died, even though they were not viable, the District laws arguably do recognize them as human beings and victims of a crime.
Washington, D.C. police said they counted the twins’ deaths in the city homicide record, and the person responsible for the shooting will be charged in connection to their deaths. If the twins had died while still in the womb, however, it appears less likely that the District laws would have recognized them as human beings and victims of a crime.
There may not be any justice for a set of unborn twins who died after their mother was shot near her home on Aug. 30 in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Post reports LaKira Johnson lost her twin daughters more than half way through her pregnancy because of the gunshot wound, but her tiny girls are not recognized as victims in District law.
Johnson was five months pregnant when she walked down the street from her Northeast Washington home to buy a cheesesteak on Aug. 30, according to the report. She was shot in the back outside of the restaurant, an “innocent bystander caught in a series of retaliatory shootings,” police told the newspaper.
The young mom said her first reaction was fear for her daughters. The pain came later.
Johnson was taken to the hospital where doctors initially told her that her unborn babies were OK; the bullet had missed her uterus. But three days later, she went into labor and delivered her twins at 22 weeks of pregnancy; they were too young to survive, according to the report.
Here’s more from the report:
But what happened to LaKira’s pregnancy raises a complicated set of legal and moral questions about what constitutes a life when taken by a stranger. Does it begin when a newborn can survive on its own? Does it start with a first breath? Does it matter that the twins were already loved?
LaKira knew it was too early for her daughters to be born, but there was no stopping what had already started. With her boyfriend and mother by her side, and a medical staff instructing her, she pushed once, and the girls came out together, wiggling in the amniotic sac they had shared their entire existence.
She had already decided to name them Heaven and Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backward), even before she had to trust that’s where they were going.
LaKira is not sure how long they survived, but she held them for hours. She held them as they breathed and after they stopped breathing. She held them naked and dressed in little white gowns and matching hats that the hospital provided. She held them as her mother took pictures of them with her cellphone, capturing images LaKira would later scroll through many nights, sobbing.
“I love you, and I will miss you,” she told them both.
The grieving mom appears to blame herself for her daughters’ tragic death, though it was not her fault in any way.
“It wasn’t the babies’ fault,” LaKira told the newspaper. “It was me and my body. It was going through so much trauma.”
LaKira’s mother, Cassandra Johnson, said her daughter is struggling to heal emotionally more than physically; the young woman also lost a kidney as a result of the gunshot wound. Recently, Cassandra said she found her daughter on the sofa at 4 a.m. with two tiny white gowns made for the twins on her shoulder.
The D.C. mom and her family had the twins’ tiny bodies cremated and memorialized in special urns with their initials and images of alphabet blocks, according to the report. They also held a prayer service and balloon release in memory of the girls – just as a family would for any other child. But the District laws do not recognize the twins as human beings.
Washington, D.C. is one of the few places in the country that does not have fetal homicide laws to protect unborn babies who are victims of crimes. Currently, 37 states recognize the unlawful killing of an unborn child as a homicide in at least some circumstances, according to the National Right to Life Committee. The federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act also protects unborn victims of federal and military crimes.
In another case earlier this year, a nearly full-term baby did not receive justice for her death after she was cut out of her mother’s womb. In February, a Colorado jury found Dynel Catrece Lane guilty of attempted murder for attacking the baby’s mother; but, because Colorado does not have a fetal homicide law, the unborn baby was not recognized as a second victim in the horrific incident.
There is a glimmer of hope in the twins’ case. According to the report, interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham decided to include the girls’ deaths in the city’s homicide record. According to the medical examiner’s office, the twins’ deaths were caused by “prematurity complicating maternal gunshot wound,” and the office described the manner of their deaths as “homicide.”
While police have not arrested anyone in the incident yet, they said the person will be charged with the twins’ deaths. However, it will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to pursue the charges, according to the police.