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Tiara Time Again After Trauma At City Hall


July 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

The wore her tiara again yesterday afternoon, and beamed as cameras clicked and city leaders handed out proclamations, but 12-year-old Jasmine Pineda still cannot drive the gunshots from her dreams.

"I hear those shots again and again and again," Jasmine said yesterday, recalling last week's shooting at City Hall. "And when I wake up, I start crying."

A week ago, Jasmine and five other young beauty queens dropped to the floor of the City Council chamber as Councilman James E. Davis was gunned down by a would-be political rival, Othniel Boaz Askew, who was then fatally shot by a police officer. The girls had just been honored with official proclamations for winning the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade pageant, but they abandoned them as they fled the chamber, seeking safety in a nearby bathroom.

Yesterday, city and community leaders tried to make up for the trauma by reissuing the proclamations, this time on more familiar ground, a street corner in the Bronx. The girls again wore their tiaras and sashes, their smiles and high heels, but they and their parents said the shootings had changed their lives.

Vivian Torres, who was with her daughter Desiree Madera, 12, during the shooting, said she was nervous about attending yesterday's ceremony. She worried that somehow, in front of cameras and city officials, there would be another shooting.

"We didn't want to be here today, but we have to," she said as community and city leaders praised the girls in a mélange of English and Spanish. "They're little and they've been through a traumatic experience. That's why everybody wants to know how they're doing and how they feel."

The girls and their parents said they were feeling better. They have been to grief counseling, and they talk about their feelings at bedtime and pray for Mr. Davis, they said.

But some of the girls now sleep with their parents, or wake with a start when neighborhood boys light firecrackers at night. Others try to forget what happened to keep the tears at bay, and seek support not from their parents, but from the other girls who were there.

At the ceremony yesterday on East Fordham Road, city leaders referred to them as "our girls." Councilwoman Margarita Lopéz said they had become symbols of peace and beauty, the antithesis of Mr. Askew. "They were in plain view of this man," Ms. Lopéz said. "He could have killed them. He could have harmed them."

A week ago Wednesday, the girls had entered City Hall bubbling with excitement, asking to see the mayor, said Luz Machuca, director of the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade.

After the shootings, they ended up in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's workspace on the second floor. He calmed them and gave them lollipops, and then the girls were given a police escort home.

Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Machuca watched the girls dance in the street to a salsa beat. As they smiled and waved their arms to the music, she pointed toward one girl, recalling how her screams had pierced the air.

"I just hope that they can grow up as healthy young women and put this behind them," Ms. Machuca said.

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