NEW ORLEANS -- The mother of a 5-year-old girl who shot and killed herself remained behind bars Monday.
New Orleans Police initially said 28-year-old Laderika Smith would be booked for second-degree murder, but Monday morning they backed off on that, saying they would consult with the Orleans Parish district attorney to determine what to charge her with.
Loved ones were expected to gather outside the home where the little girl was shot at 6 p.m. Monday. Police said 5-year-old Brandajah Smith apparently found a revolver in the home and shot herself in the head with it. She was taken off of life support Sunday evening and passed away.
On Monday, friends and family members outside the house who didn’t want to be identified said they were concerned that Laderika Smith could try to take her own life behind bars.
Just hours after Smith was found shot inside her home, family and friends gathered to show their support in the 2200 block of North Galvez Street.
“Her life was just starting and it was cut short,” Verlenda Williams said Sunday.
“The family is devastated about what happened and taking it really, really hard,” family member Danielle Carter said.
By Monday morning, a stuffed animal memorial began to form at the house on the porch. Magistrate records show police said the 5-year-old's mother told them that she would leave Brandajah inside the house unsupervised if she was outside in the immediate neighborhood. The narrative of the incident included in the court record said Smith told police she knew there was a gun in the house and had seen it on “several occasions.”
Most recently, the report says, “Smith specifically observed the firearm underneath the bedroom mattress and on a shelf inside the closet.”
Police also said in the report that they interviewed Smith’s mother, and she told them the gun used was often kept under a pillow in the bedroom where Smith left her daughter alone.
“Safety comes first. You protect your children above all things. That is how I feel about it,” said Carmen Demoruelle, a representative of violence prevention group Cease Fire.
Monday, an autopsy revealed Smith died of a gunshot wound to the head that the Orleans Parish Coroner’s chief investigator said they suspected was self-inflicted. Brandajah was taken off life support Sunday afternoon.
Laderika Smith made her first appearance in court at Tulane and Broad Monday. She faced a charge of cruelty to a juvenile, but the NOPD said it could still change.
“The argument that will be made by whatever attorney is representing Ms. Smith is that this was a tragic accident and that there should be no criminal charges filed against the defendant,” said Eyewitness News legal analyst Donald “Chick” Foret.
In a statement Sunday night, New Orleans police said they had planned to book Smith on a second-degree murder charge after the child died, but by Monday morning, they said in a follow-up statement they were consulting the district attorney's office about how to charge her.
“When you look at the technical definition of second-degree murder, it talks about the killing of a human being in the commission of certain offenses. One of the offenses that is enumerated or spelled out in the La. second-degree murder statute is cruelty of a juvenile,” Foret said.
It's more likely Smith would be charged with negligent homicide, in Foret’s opinion.
An Orleans Parish magistrate set Smith’s bond at $20,000 Monday.