Six-year-old Tacarra Morgan ran and jumped, swished and sashayed in her swimsuit in her backyard pool, a gift from Chicago police officers.
As she splished and splashed Thursday, hulking 6-feet-tall, 200-something-pound men in blue — members of the Chicago Police Department’s Gang Enforcement Unit — held up the sides of the large round pool as a garden hose slowly dribbled water.
These were the same officers who had responded on July 19 to a call of a child struck by a stray bullet while sitting on her front porch in the Englewood neighborhood. They had found Tacarra shot in the stomach, her insides leaking.
“Her injury was horrific. If you play the video, my officers were clearly upset. They were beside themselves seeing a 6-year-old little girl who knew the meaning of being shot,” said Sgt. Elise Padilla, who spearheaded Thursday’s Operation Backyard Pool.
Tacarra underwent surgery to remove the bullet and was released a week later from Comer Children’s Hospital. A fighter, doctors say she’ll fully recover.
“When her grandfather said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘Grandpa, I’ve been shot.’
A 6-year-old should not know what it feels like to be shot,” said Padilla, a 21-year veteran, tears flowing. “I thought long and hard, and thought, this 6-year-old is going to be afraid to be outside. What she deemed as her safe haven, in front of her home, became a war zone for her. So I thought, ‘Baby steps. Put a pool out in the back.’ ”
Padilla and members of her unit visited her in the hospital. She paid for the pool from her own pocket, had it delivered and waited for the doctor’s OK, which came Wednesday.
“Sgt. Padilla had been constantly keeping in touch with me. She asked me when could they put up the pool. I said, ‘Let’s wait and see what the doctor says.’ Yesterday, the doctor told us she was OK, she could get in the pool. He said she can get back to normal. She’s going to recover,” said Tacarra’s mother, Carolyn Morris.
“This is just wonderful what they’ve done for my daughter. I appreciate everything. There were just so many prayers out here for her. We were just sitting on the porch. Then kapow! Pow! Gunshots! It’s terrible,” she added.
Padilla’s seven-member unit converged on the 6000 block of South Paulina. They shed their bulletproof vests and began by raking the yard. They laid tarp; grounded the electrical line; unraveled the rubber pool and installed the filter. Then they lifted Tacarra and her 8-year-old brother into the pool and began filling it up.
“It’s good, because I get to play in it,” Tacarra declared.
There was a hitch though. An hour later, it still wasn’t even a quarter full. This called for the big guns. Soon, men in darker blue were pulling up in a firetruck.
“Yay!” shouted Tacarra, playing with a huge shark and other water toys the officers had blown up for her. In no time, more than 500 gallons were being splashed by an ecstatic Tacarra.
“We responded to the call that came in on her a few weeks back. So when they gave the address today, we said, ‘Hey, that’s the little girl’s house,’ ” said Chicago Fire Department Lt. Jerry Cambria of Engine 116, a few blocks away. “But they didn’t tell us what it was for. I figured it out once we got here. We’ll fill it up. It’ll be nice and cold. And it’s a good day for it too.”
Tacarra was one of at least 19 children under age 10 shot in Chicago in 2016. “These are the cases that make a 6’2” officer cry, Padilla said. “My officers were torn to shreds. But this, this makes them feel good.”
Tacarra’s family set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for her treatment. As of Thursday, $1,782 of their $15k goal was raised. Tacarra’s mother also has a 10-year-old son who is paralyzed and in need of a wheelchair and ramp for the house, Police News Affairs Officer Nicole Trainor said.