By Kevin Deutsch
Aja Holmes had just loaded the ice cream and birthday cake into her car when she heard a “pop.”
Her brother Jaheem Hunter, celebrating his fifth birthday that afternoon, collapsed to the ground.
“I saw Jaheem drop,” Holmes testified Tuesday in the trial of Michael Quiles, who is charged with attempted murder, assault, and weapon charges for allegedly striking Jaheem with a stray bullet on June 5, 2017, leaving the boy permanently injured.
Quiles, 29, allegedly fired at least four shots at a man during a feud over a drug deal – one of which penetrated Jaheem’s head. Holmes said she looked up after Jaheem fell and clearly saw Quiles firing shots in the 1100 block of Washington Avenue in Morissania.
Her and Jaheem’s father, Charles Hunter, lifted Jaheem into his arms as Quiles approached them, gun still in hand, Holmes testified.
“I thought he was going to kill us,” Holmes, who is Jaheem’s legal guardian, told the jury.
She said she heard Quiles tell her father: “Oh shit, my bad, Charlie,” all but admitting that he’d mistakenly shot Jaheem.
What Holmes did next, doctors said, saved her brother’s life.
She ordered Charles to place Jaheem in her Volkswagen Jetta, and the three of them sped off toward St. Barnabas Hospital—a little over two miles away.
Holmes said she drove on the wrong side of the road during 5 p.m., rush hour traffic, weaving past stopped cars as her brother bled profusely from his head.
“Jaheem was just limp,” Holmes said. “No movement. No life. He looked dead.”
At one point Holmes spotted an ambulance and pulled beside it. Her father tried handing Jaheem to the driver, who told them they were better off just continuing toward the hospital, with the ambulance following behind them.
Outside the emergency room, Charles scooped Jaheem up and rushed toward the entrance, stumbling over the bag of cake and spilled ice cream.
Inside the ER, Holmes said, doctors tried to get Jaheem breathing again.
“I just remember it being chaos in the room because it was a little baby that got shot in the head,” said Holmes. She said watching the scene felt like an “out-of-body” experience”
“When you’re in the moment, you see everything in slow motion,” she said.
The next day, Holmes said she picked Quiles out of a six-man police lineup.
“I know who shot him. I saw him. He was right in front of me.”
On cross-examination, Quiles’ attorney, Tania Brief of The Bronx Defenders, tried to cast doubt on Holmes’ recollection. She reminded Holmes that on the day of the shooting, she’d told detectives she saw Quiles run past her—not that she’d seen him fire a gun.
Holmes told Brief she could not clearly recall what she told detectives that day.
Jaheem, now six, continues to recover from his injuries. After enduring four major surgeries, and paralysis to his right side, he now walks with a drag in his right foot. He also has weakness in his right hand, suffers from painful seizures, and struggles with his speech and memory.
He will always need special education, Holmes said.
“It’s like he’s stuck inside of himself and he can’t get out,” she said of Jaheem’s seizures, which render him speechless.
Testimony in Quiles’ trial will continue on Wednesday.
He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top charge.