It was an hour before Halloween and 4-year-old Kai “Kilo” Gibson already was in costume.
Sitting next to his mom, Sariah Kamoe, on the couch in their Sixth Street home in the Oregon District, he wore a police uniform and cap, had a star on his chest and a black belt with a holster around his waist.
His sister, Lydia, who turned 7 on Friday, busied herself nearby as she got her “unicorn princess” costume together.
Kilo was fixated on getting all his “accessories” as he called them – everything from handcuffs, whistle and badge to a tiny baton and a rubber-tipped dart for his toy gun – into their right spots.
He wanted to look exactly like the inspiration for his outfit, his hero, his “Buddy,” officer Jimmy Howard, a downtown motorcycle cop with the Dayton Police force.
The two had met on nearby E. Fifth Street the day after the mass shooting in the Oregon District left 10 dead and 27 injured and instantly shattered a city and especially the close-knit neighborhood where it had happened.
Since the August 4 attack, there has been a continuous effort to reclaim Fifth Street and replace the evil and horror with love and embrace.
On that same Sunday – some 18 hours after the 24-year-old gunman went on his killing spree – Fifth Street filled with nearly 2,000 people for a candlelight vigil. The following weekend singer John Legend, originally from Springfield, toured the neighborhood, had dinner and gave an impromptu concert at Blind Bob’s.
A couple of weeks later comedian Dave Chappelle, who lives outside of Yellow Springs, put on the gala Gem City Shine show in the Oregon District that featured Stevie Wonder as the headliner and drew 30,000 people.
And over the past three months there has been a concerted effort to draw people to Fifth Street for the restaurants, bars and shops or just to have them walk the sidewalks to window gaze, talk and hug.
Few moments have been more powerful than when little Kilo met Officer Howard that day.
After Sariah took her kids to lunch at Lucky’s – so they could begin to feel the love in their neighborhood after the terrifying events of the previous day – they were walking back home when they spotted Howard with some Billy Graham ambassadors who were praying for him.
Kilo asked his mom why people were around the officer and she told him that “the police had stopped the bad guy from being able to hurt more people.”
He asked her if he could go thank Howard and that exchange was captured in a touching photo.
It shows Kilo sitting on Howard’s motorcycle, one of the a long-stemmed roses the officer gave him and his sister in his hand. Howard’s left hand is resting on the little boy’s back in reassuring fashion.
As this was happening Sariah said she stood there weeping.
“Mommy kept crying,” Kilo agreed quietly.
“You didn’t like it when Mommy cried, did you?” Sariah said as she reached over and rubbed his back.
That day the tears had been for the lost innocence that came a day earlier and then the regained innocence she saw unfolding in front of her there on Fifth Street.
After the photo, as the family continued on home, Kilo began to talk about his “buddy.”
Although Sariah didn’t mention it, if you looked closely at the background in that photo you saw Kilo and Howard were posed right at the opening to the narrow walkway than runs alongside Bind Bob’s patio and connects the alley to Fifth Street.
This was the very spot from which the killer emerged and began firing, killing three people, including his sister, in front of Blind Bob’s. He then headed onto the street, firing his weapon nonstop until police finally killed him just before he burst into Ned Peppers.
Sariah, who is part Hawaiian, was born in Idaho, lived in Utah and met her husband, Scott Gibson, in Oklahoma. He’s in real estate and his job often brought him to Ohio.
Four years ago – soon after Kilo was born – the family moved from Tulsa to Dayton.
Although Sariah had set her sights on the house on Sixth Street, someone else bought it first and they settled in Oakwood.
Two years ago, the Sixth Street house opened up again and they got it.
“I just love the Oregon District, I always have,” Sariah said. “I like the history, the feeling here, the whole atmosphere.
“And our house is very interesting. You can look out and see the parking lot at Jay’s and Thai 9 and also Brown Street and Sixth Street. I stay up late and because of our windows and the balcony and all, I can look out and see people walking and in a weird way I’m protective.
“I watch them until they get to their car or their home or the building they are going to. I’m a mom and it’s just a motherly instinct.”
That protective embrace was shattered just after 1 a.m. on August 4 as she lay sleeping.
“I was the only one in the house who woke up when the bullets started going,” she said. “Instantly, I thought, ‘That sounds like a gun!’
“But then I wondered if it could be because there were so many. And then came even more shots…It must have been the police shooting back.
“After that I heard the sirens and people screaming. Immediately I knew something very, very bad had happened.”
She got out of bed and looked out the window in the children’s room. It overlooked the parking lot where the killer had parked.
“I was still trying to fully wake up and I was going, ‘What’s going on?’
“I saw a bunch of people running and screaming. I went to our balcony where you can see Brown Street and there were girls running with no shoes on.”
“The balcony would be dangerous,” Kilo sudddenly said. “If someone shot at the window, it could break. The basement would be good.”
This was a conversation you shouldn’t be hearing from a 4-year-old and Sariah tried to ease the little boy’s mind:
“Yeah, but we were safe at our house, huh?”
Kilo nodded: “Yeah, we weren’t outside. It was bedtime.”
The next morning Sariah and Scott had a difficult choice:
“It’s interesting to try to navigate how you talk to your kids, especially if they are the age of our kids. How do you tell them something like that happened? You couldn’t exactly avoid the conversation when they woke up. Not when there’s a bomb squad car parked out front and there is yellow caution tape and police cars all over.
“Basically we told them that a very bad guy who needed a lot of mental help had gone out and hurt people. And there were a lot of people very sad about it.”
Throughout the day she said her children asked a lot of questions:
“They wanted to know why the guy couldn’t get help and why he hurt people. And they were really concerned about the parents who had died: ‘What was going to happen to their kids? Who would take care of them? Where the people afraid?’”
They all went to the candlelight vigil that evening and then to Lucky’s the next day for lunch.
Meeting Officer Howard couldn’t have been better for her children, especially Kilo, Sariah said:
“His response was fantastic.”
That evening Kilo and Lydia brought the long-stemmed roses he had given them to the makeshift memorial set up next to Ned Peppers.
“We gave the roses to the people that died,” Kilo explained earnestly.
The following evening was the National Night Out gathering at Newcom Park in the Oregon District. Kilo saw Officer Howard again and once more got to sit on the motorcycle, this time with the lights flashing.
Although Kilo has never seen his buddy again, Howard made a lasting impression on him.
After the frightening events of August 4, his new friend had helped him again feel safe and secure.
“He loves policemen now,” Sariah said.
When it came time for Halloween, Kilo knew exactly what character he wanted to be.
He announced he wanted to be his “buddy.”
He said he got his police uniform ”from the mailman,”
Sariah smiled and mouthed the words” “From Amazon.”
Before he headed out for trick or treating the other night, Kilo emptied out the little pail he uses to store his miniature toys.
Although he and Lydia soon were talking about the kind of treats they’d like to get, Kilo admitted there was something he wanted more.
He wanted Howard to see him in his police uniform.
Told Howard was on vacation and wouldn’t return until this week, Kilo wondered if he could show him then:
“He’s my buddy.”
And, once again, Sariah’s eyes glistened.
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