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They were ringing in the new year at their apartment when the gunfire started. Then this 11-year-old fell to the ground

By Ashley R. Williams, CNN

(CNN) — Most tweens might brush off holding their parents’ hands as baby stuff. Not Amethyst Sistine Silva.

The affectionate, hug-loving girl from Corpus Christi, Texas, known to everyone in her life as “Ame,” hadn’t yet aged out of clasping her mother’s palms between her 11-year-old fingers.

“We would walk throughout the mall and she’d hold my hand as if she were 2, 3 years old,” Amethyst’s mother, Melinda Cruz, told CNN. “She’d say, ‘No, don’t let go of my hand.’”

On January 1, 2023, everything changed.

The family chose to ring in the new year near their home to be safe. “We were out there just to make memories,” Robert Silva, Amethyst’s father, told CNN.

What instead unfolded is a nightmare Silva says often replays in his mind.

“I wasn’t prepared for this,” he said.

That night, Amethyst, a sibling to six older brothers and sisters, was standing outside her family’s apartment near the street when she was shot by what police said was celebratory gunfire.

“I heard the building get hit with bullets, and the last one hit Amethyst and she just said, ‘ouch,’ then she fell to the ground,” Silva recounted.

“Right at midnight, Amethyst was probably the first child to go in 2023,” he said.

Amethyst’s parents were told she died some time after they got her to a hospital, they said.

Seeking justice for Amethyst

Two men were arrested on charges of deadly conduct for discharging a firearm in connection with her death, according to the Corpus Christi Police Department.

Amethyst is one of more than 1,300 children and teens killed by a gun so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Firearms became the No. 1 killer of children and teens in America in 2020, surpassing motor vehicles, which had long been the leading cause of death among America’s youth.

In the months following her death, the family has advocated for justice for Amethyst. They’re consulting with attorneys to investigate what may have led to their difficulties reaching 911 dispatchers that night – a hindrance they say could have affected their daughter’s survival, according to the family’s lawyer, Mauricio R. Celis.

The family attempted to call 911 a few times after Amethyst was shot but failed to get through, Celis said.

“Even though there were perpetrators out there committing this crime, we strongly believe that if the 911 service would have been working properly, she might have been saved,” Celis said.

The Corpus Christi Police Department released a January 5 statement responding to what authorities referred to as a reported “inaccurate timeline” of what occurred that night.

The department’s 911 system received a call from Amethyst’s mother four seconds before midnight, according to the statement. The answering operator reported hearing silence, “and the caller disconnected,” the statement read.

Police say a dispatcher’s callback at midnight reached voicemail and “was considered an incomplete 911 call.” A minute later, a third party called 911 stating a child had been shot and officers were on the scene. The caller then hung up, according to the police statement.

“We want to clarify that our officers were on the scene within less than two minutes of the shooting,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, the parents had left the scene before officers could make contact.”

The family’s legal team is working with experts to pinpoint the cause and responsible party of what they believe was a failure of the 911 communication system, Celis said.

A young life cut short

Chowing down on Joe’s Crab Shack seafood. Sticking her feet out the car window along Ocean Drive. Jamming to the music at the Bush and Seether concert. Her “Stranger Things”-themed birthday party last October.

The moments of Amethyst’s short life have become cherished memories for her grieving family.

In her mom’s embrace, Amethyst smiled brightly in the last photo taken of her on New Year’s Eve.

Her grin offered a glimpse of the light the girl with “a heart of gold” brought to the lives of those who knew her. Amethyst’s biggest talent was caring for others – strangers and loved ones alike, her family said.

“She would see someone panhandling for money and say, ‘stop, let’s give them $1 or something to drink, Dad,’” Silva said.

“If she saw anybody who was sad, she would go and give them a hug, like, ‘it’s gonna be OK,’” Cruz said. “She would draw them a picture, or just go sit by them and hold their hand.”

Amethyst loved animals. She’d befriended a squirrel she began regularly feeding not long before she died, her dad said.

The 11-year-old had two hamsters and a cat. She was such a feline fan, when she’d asked her father how he thought she’d someday be reincarnated, he responded, “You’re going to come back as a cat, Mama, you already know that.”

Amethyst’s cat Noah often hangs out by a memorial near where she was shot, Silva shared.

‘She didn’t want anybody upset’

His daughter enjoyed drawing pictures of people, flowers and butterflies.

When Cruz spots a butterfly these days – especially a purple one – she says her youngest child springs to mind.

Black and purple were Amethyst’s favorite colors, her mother said.

She adored “Stranger Things” and the character Eleven. Her casket, like her final birthday celebration, was themed after the popular show.

Though she typically wore nothing extra beyond a bracelet and a necklace, Amethyst would break out the big, bulky boots, black skirts and charm belts to rock out at concerts.

“One of her favorite stores here in Corpus was Hot Topic,” Cruz said.

She’d play around with goth-inspired makeup, a hobby that might’ve blossomed into a career in special effects, her parents said.

Amethyst’s dad influenced her love of rock ‘n’ roll, and bands like Metallica and Three Days Grace, he said. She wore a black T-shirt bearing a photo of guitarist John 5 the night she died.

Her parents described their child as full of life with a forgiving heart who often said, “I love you,” and was rarely in a bad mood.

“She had her own character, she was always out to make someone laugh, or she was showing you cat videos,” Silva said. “She didn’t want anybody upset.”

Amethyst was eager to start junior high school in the fall.

Students and staff at her elementary school created a memorial with plants and painted rocks in her honor, her parents said.

Silva’s alarm is still set to wake his daughter each morning. He never got a chance to get her ready for the rest of fifth grade.

“She didn’t even get to make it back from Christmas vacation and say goodbye to her friends before summer vacation,” he said.

Silva described his youngest child as “a daddy’s girl” and his “partner in crime.” Her absence has left an irreparable hole in his heart, he said.

Just as his daughter once clung to the palms of her parents, Silva firmly holds dear the memories of his beloved Ame.

“That daddy-and-daughter bond is something that no one can ever take away from you,” he said.

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