Albany Police continue to investigate a shooting last weekend that killed a pregnant woman and injured four others. 32-year-old Shanita Thomas was killed in the 200 block of Central Avenue in the latest gun homicide to rock the city. In recent days, a vigil has sprung up near the site of the shooting.
Albany has been going through one of its most violent periods in memory. But the bright pink display of heart shaped balloons, flowers, and candles sprawling down one block of Central Ave, surrounding a portrait of a beautiful young woman and her children, is a reminder that each grim statistic is really the story of a life.
Standing at the vigil near Robin Street Thursday morning, smoking a cigarette and shaking her head, was Shanita Thomas’ neighbor – Kierra Allen. Allen says Thomas used to make TikTok videos with her son, loved to play softball, and always sang to her when she was sad.
“We always used to have cookouts and everything like that,” Allen said. “And anytime I needed to talk to someone because I was going through my own problems she always wanted me to talk to her if I needed anything. She just hit me up like two weeks ago. You know, that’s how I know her. She was a loving, laughable, funny person. Loved TikTok, always on TikTok.”
Allen said the worst part is that Thomas was pregnant.
“She was with child,” Allen said. “Six months pregnant. Oh my God. I just can’t believe it. And her two boys, you know? I just feel for them.”
Albany County Legislator Wanda Willingham says one of the young people at the party where the shooting occurred was a member of her family.
The Democrat says instead of faulting the partygoers for gathering during a pandemic, it would be better to start acknowledging that young people are caught in a cycle of violence.
“That young lady who lost her life, her children now, their father also lost his life to gun violence,” Willingham said. “So we have a family now that is devastated.”
Allen said standing at her friend’s vigil is nothing short of surreal.
“I feel like this is a dream,” Allen said. “I just can’t believe - I really can’t believe that this happened. I’m in shock. I’m very devastated. Because she was a beautiful queen. She always made us laugh. It’s just unreal. I can’t even believe I’m standing here, you know?”
Allen lives nearby. She said the solution to stopping more gun violence in Albany is clear.
“I just feel like the guns just need to go away,” Allen said. “People don’t fight fair anymore. They’re not using their hands. I know protection – people try to protect each other. But they’re retaliating on the wrong people. Basically. There’s people getting hurt that don’t need to be hurt because they’re looking for the other ones that need to be hurt. They need to get these guns off the street. Albany’s getting worse. It’s not the same like it was before. And this is not over, either.”
“I don’t know what it’s going to take to make this go away,” Willingham said. “All I know is I know too many people, and their families, who have been involved in this violence.”
Police Chief Eric Hawkins said officers arrived to the shooting less than a minute after being dispatched.
For her part, Allen was just trying to remember her fallen friend.
“She didn’t do no harm to nobody,” Allen said. “She made sure everybody was happy. She always made sure that if you need this, if you need that – she was just caring and loving. And they took somebody caring and loving… away.”