OAKLAND -- When his 8-year-old stepdaughter asked for an escort to a sleepover at her best friend's home next door, Jesse Fowler accompanied her every step of the way.
But Alaysha Carradine, an aspiring model whose family called her ladybug, was not safe and sound once inside her friend's Dimond district apartment.
For reasons police and family members still don't understand, at least one gunman rang the doorbell at the apartment on the 3400 block of Wilson Avenue, and started shooting when Alaysha's friend opened the front door at 11:18 p.m. Wednesday.
The bullets pierced the apartment's metal gate and struck four of the five people inside. Alaysha was killed. Her 7-year-old best friend sustained wounds that weren't life-threatening as did her friend's 4-year-old brother and 64-year-old grandmother.
"I'm still in denial that she is really gone," Fowler, 24, told KGO-TV Thursday. "I'm used to her talking my ear off, and she is not going to be there anymore. She has a younger brother who I have to raise without her now, so this is going to be difficult."
Fowler said early Thursday that he had yet to break the news to Alaysha's mother, Chiquita Carradine, who was out of town.
Police had no motive for the attack or description of the shooter and were asking for the public's help to track down the person. On Thursday Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Sean Whent visited the wounded victims at area hospitals.
Neighbors placed flowers, cards and stuffed animals outside their bullet-riddled apartment.
The only person in the home not struck by gunfire was 22-year-old Khamel Hardin, the children's' uncle, who said he was in the living room when a hail of bullets started whizzing passed him. "It was like a bomb explosion," he said. "I was dodging shots. I tried to get them out of the way."
Alaysha is the youngest of Oakland's 54 murder victims this year. She would have been a third-grader at Fruitvale Elementary School, the same school her wounded friend attended. School staffers wouldn't talk about the shooting. One began crying when asked about it.
The neighborhood, which is just east of Interstate 580 and a short walk to a popular shopping district, isn't a hot spot for shootings, but residents still have been impacted by the city's violence epidemic.
"I don't have to imagine what (her mother) is going through," said neighbor John Hughes whose son was shot and killed three years ago. "It's about old grown folks ... killing these little kids. They're killing off our future, and we need to do something about it."
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who lives about a dozen blocks from the victims' home, said she is asking people to come forward with information or video footage. "Whoever can shoot into a family's apartment has got to be found and stopped," she said.
Quan said she was incredibly saddened by the shooting. "We should all be outraged that anyone would be so callous, so coldhearted, to shoot into a room of children and their grandmother."
Thursday evening, as dozens of police investigators canvassed the neighborhood, seeking witnesses, tips and surveillance video that might help locate the killer, dozens of people gathered near the scene of the shooting.
Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, who was shot to death by a BART police officer on New Year's Day 2009, called for a community rededicated to stopping the violence.
"We have to come together as one and bring value to our lives, and what we are finding is we don't value our lives," Johnson said. "This murder was senseless and my heart bleeds."
"This pulls on my heartstrings," said Oakland police Chief Sean Whent. "I am a father. I have kids and this is just the worst of the worst, when you have an 8-year-old child who gets killed and three others wounded."
A 19-year-old identifying himself only as Curt said he knew the victims. "The grandmother, she helped me out when I was doing bad," he said. "And the girls, they don't do nothing but run around and play."
Alaysha was described as a talkative girl who loved modeling. An online video shows her walking down the runway in a leotard and butterfly wings during last month's Juneteenth celebration in San Francisco.
One neighbor said the family of Alaysha's friend had moved in recently and that their landlord had rented to several problem tenants. "It's this one apartment building all the time," Regina Scott said, who added that she felt terrible for the shooting victims.
"The poor innocent child was just over visiting and this happened," she said. "Who they were after, that person didn't even get shot. The child did."
Police and Crime stoppers of Oakland are offering up to $25,000 in reward money for information leading to arrest of subjects. Anyone with information should contact Oakland police at 510-238-3821 or the anonymous tip line at 510-773-2508.
Staff writers Harry Harris and Kristin J. Bender contributed to this report.
Several children have been killed or wounded in shootings this year in Oakland. Some of the more serious incidents that involved victims younger than 18 include:
Jan. 7: Tyronta Mickens, 17, was the city's first homicide victim of the year. He was shot multiple times at 12:47 p.m. while sitting in a car in a parking lot at Hegenberger Road and Hamilton Street, police said.
Jan. 11: Ken Harbin, 17, of Oakland was killed at 8:15 p.m. in the 9400 block of Hillside Street.
Jan. 28: An 8-year-old girl was shot in the leg during a drive-by shooting in front of a relative's home in the 2200 block of 65th Avenue near Avenal Avenue, police said.
Feb. 1: A 17-year-old Oakland boy was injured in a shooting during a First Friday event. An 18-year-old man was killed in the shooting and two others were wounded when shots were fired in the parking lot of a beauty supply business in the 2000 block of Telegraph Avenue
Feb. 9: Tyler Frank Jamison, 17, of Berkeley, was killed in what police said could be a gang-related shootout in the Laurel district of East Oakland.
March 12: A 13-year-old boy survived being shot in the chest while walking to school in the area of 69th Avenue and Hamilton Street, a few blocks from his home.
April 15: A 15-year-old girl was injured after being shot in the 8700 block of MacArthur Boulevard.
May 5: Olajuwon Clayborn, 17, was standing with another man on the sidewalk outside his home on 86th Avenue and Dowling Street talking to a girl when a gunman walked up to the two and shot them both.
May 24: Isaac Johnson, 17, died after being shot May 11 in the 6100 block of Adeline Street.
June 2: David Manson Jr., 17, fatally shot in the 9100 block of International Boulevard.
June 29: A boy and a girl, both age 14, were shot near an East Oakland park in the 9600 block of Sunnyside Street.
July 17: Alaysha Carradine, 8, was shot and killed when someone sprayed an apartment front door with gunfire in the 3400 block of Wilson Avenue. Two other children, ages 4 and 7, and a woman inside the apartment were also hit by bullets but expected to survive the shooting.