- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Woodbridge woman was arrested after she shot a handgun into the air to scare off a group of boys who were attacking her daughter.

Lakisha Gaither, 35, said she fired a single round into the sky from her legally owned gun Saturday night after a boy punched her daughter in the face during a dispute near their home.

“I just wanted this group of guys to disperse,” Ms. Gaither said. “I didn’t know what they were going to do. I wanted him to stop hitting my child.”

The shooting occurred at 9:20 p.m. in the 13600 block of Cridercrest Place. After confronting a teenage girl and her mother in the neighborhood over a prior disagreement, Ms. Gaither and her 15-year-old daughter, Brianna Stewart, began walking home. A group of about 10 boys approached them in the parking lot of their apartment complex. One boy began to swear and insult Ms. Gaither and her daughter, who stood up to the boy.

“The two were face to face,” Ms. Gaither said. “He grabs her shirt, she goes to push him off her.”

Ms. Gaither said she realized she’d be putting the both of them at risk if she jumped into the fray.

SEE ALSO: Facts about Va. mom’s warning shot in dispute

“I stopped and turned to walk to the middle of the parking lot. I made sure no one was around me,” she said. “I unholstered my gun, pointed it straight in the air and fired just one shot to get him off my child.”

Ms. Gaither said she didn’t try to get away, and police eventually arrived.

“I didn’t feel like I was wrong,” she said. “I wanted to protect my child.”

But officers arrested her and charged her with reckless use of a weapon.

Prince William County police spokesman Officer Jonathan L. Perok said Ms. Gaither “should have called police instead of taking matters into her own hands.”

“You can’t fire into the air,” Officer Perok said. “Once something goes up, it comes down. There’s the possibility of causing property damage, injuring someone or killing someone. In an apartment complex, the odds of that bullet coming down and striking something are very high.”

No injuries or property damage were reported after the incident, but Officer Perok said police do not encourage confrontation and urge gun owners to use their weapons only in what they perceive to be life-threatening situations.

“The fact she stepped away from the crowd kind of shows she was not in an immediate danger type situation,” he said. “She may have been trying to break up the fight, but that’s not the proper course of action to take.”

Ms. Gaither said she didn’t immediately call police because she did not have her cellphone with her.

The misdemeanor charge is just one thing Ms. Gaither is dealing with in the aftermath of the weekend confrontation. As of Tuesday evening, Brianna was missing. The teen, who went to her grandmother’s house after Ms. Gaither was arrested, disappeared Sunday.

Ms. Gaither has been frantically attempting to locate her daughter, even as she prepares for an Oct. 30 arraignment on the gun-related charge.

Daniel L. Hawes, a Virginia Legal Defense attorney who defends clients for their use of firearms in self-defense, said that while Ms. Gaither should not have fired into the air, she was not wrong in wanting to defend Brianna or herself.

“A person has the right to defend themselves. A person doesn’t have to wait until they’re actually harmed,” he said. “Shooting into the air sort of changed things dramatically. She is creating a threat herself, to other people in area. She may not be guilty of a crime, but police were not wrong to charge her.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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