First Day, Last Day - The “accidental” shooting of 11-year-old Timea Batts

11-year-old Timea Lashay Batts hopped off the school bus on Shady View Drive in Hendersonville, Tennessee, waving to her friends and giggling. On the bus ride home, she had shared a selfie picture with a friend celebrating their first day at Knox Dos Middle School. Before exiting the bus that day, the little girls posted the photo on Snapchat. “First day of 6th grade was a success,” it read.
           
Timea's last photo, the selfie she posted on Snapchat.
 She would be dead minutes later.
It was Monday, August 8, 2016, just before 3:30 p.m.; Timea had only hours to live.

Minutes after she had departed the bus, a gunshot rang out in the quiet suburban neighborhood. The gunshot started a chain of events wherein, some argued, justice would fail Timea Batts.

What transpired in the next few hours is still debated. What is known is that a short time after Timea left the bus, Timea’s father, Timothy (Timont) Batts, was driving his daughter to a hospital emergency room. Then Timea was being transported by life flight to one of the most prestigious hospitals in the country, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville. The surgeons did everything they could, but the sweet little girl with an infectious smile succumbed to a gunshot wound to the torso. 

As with any shooting-related emergency, police were notified. Investigators interviewed Timothy Batts at the hospital. Timothy told investigators that his little girl - “who is his heart” according to Batts’ mother, Cutrese Starnes- had awakened him from a nap and told him she had been shot when exiting the school bus. 

Officers immediately cordoned off the scene on Hendersonville's Shady View Drive. But too many facts began stacking up against Timea’s death being a random shooting. Witnesses reported Timea was fine when she departed the bus that afternoon, and the walk to her home was but a short distance. The police were aware that Timothy Batts has a criminal career involving guns. After a search warrant was obtained for Batts’ home, his story fell apart, and he admitted to investigators that he pulled the trigger and shot Timea. Then, Timothy Batts told the police a second version of what happened.

Batts told the investigating officers that Timea came home from school and the sound startled him out
Timea "was just a doll" 
of his sleep. Batts heard someone in the house and retrieved his gun from under the dresser. “She yelled and scared him,” according to the affidavit. According to Batts, Timea’s scream frightened him and he fired one round from the handgun, only then realizing he had shot his daughter. He stated that he later disposed of the gun “in Nashville.” Later, police were able to locate and confiscate the weapon. But Batts’ story would soon be questioned again.

Timothy Batts was charged with reckless homicide, possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, false reporting, and tampering with evidence. The slender, 29-year-old father of four was booked into the Sumner County Jail, with a bond set at $1 million. Supporters of Timothy Batts soon began requesting signatures for an online petition for a bond reduction. His attributes as a father were listed; family photos were displayed. 

On August 12, Batts went before Sumner County General Sessions Court Judge James Hunter in a Gallatin, Tennessee courtroom for a bond reduction hearing. Judge Hunter’s courtroom was packed with supporters. Request for a bond reduction is part of the criminal justice process, and Batts’ supporters had raised ten thousand signatures requesting the reduction so he could attend his daughter’s funeral. 

Hendersonville Police Department Detective Neil Harris testified."The defendant has video cameras in his home, an ADT security system. We were able to recover some videos from ADT. The video shows that five minutes before Timea arrived home from school, Mr. Batts was walking through his home on the phone with a gun in his hand at the time.” Assistant D.A. Katie Walker opposed a bond reduction considering the crimes and the defendant’s history: Batts has a criminal record that includes “failure to appear” and felony drug convictions. "We felt the (1$ million) bond was appropriately set," Walker told the media. "In this case, he was charged with four felony crimes including the death of a child.” Defense Attorney John Pellegrin argued That Batts’ community ties prevented him from being a flight risk. "With his family and children here he's not a threat to leave." Batts was working two jobs (cutting lawns and cutting hair), and attending school to be a barber.

Judge Hunter commented that he was "worried about the safety of the community,” citing the defendant’s three drug convictions. But after noting, “I don’t think anybody’s claiming that Mr. Batts intended to shoot his daughter… I do think the $1 million is probably too high in this case…” Judge Hunter cut the $1 million bond in half, placing the defendant on a supervised bond. Judge Hunter noted Batts must pass drug and alcohol tests, he could not have any other charges lodged against him and he would have weekly meetings with a probation officer. Batts would be arrested immediately and his bond would be revoked should he not abide by the conditions, Judge Hunter explained: "There will be no second chance … (I) will revoke your bond ... You only get one shot.” Supporters began to jump, shout, and clap. The judge was forced to stand and order the crowd to “Stop talking! This is a courtroom!” 

Outside of the courthouse, supporters continued to rally, making announcements about how to donate to pay Batts’ bond. There was much laughter and calling out to one another, jubilant in getting a “win.” Timea’s death seemed forgotten in the attempt to celebrate Timothy Batts’ freedom. Friends and family rushed about to raise the money for the bond. The party atmosphere continued when Batts bonded out of jail that evening and was released into the arms of his loyal, ecstatic supporters. He laughed, smiled, and shared hugs and happy shouts outside of the jail. He was recorded on video as he laughed, “I want to thank everybody!” 

A flyer circulated at the Nashville club, Limelite
That weekend, a flyer was circulated at a Nashville club, Limelite, with a photo of a smiling Timothy Batts. A photo of Timea is superimposed behind him. The flyer reads, “Nashville Greatest Dad Appreciation, Thursday, August 18.” No one would say if the family knew about the flyer. Limelite management did tell the media that a family member had contacted Limelite about holding a fundraiser/party on August 18, but it did not come to fruition as Batts was released.

On August 15, the day before he was to attend Timea’s funeral, Batts tested positive for cocaine use. (Cocaine can be detected up to four days after use.) The money supporters raised for his bond was forfeited but Batts’ supporters, citing the unfairness of the test, declared support for Timothy. Harping on the unfairness of it all, they created a new petition to keep Batts from returning to prison citing unfair testing and legal issues. Not once is Timea’s name mentioned in the petition.

Batts attended his daughter's funeral on the 16th. He read a handwritten poem at the funeral. In the poem, he asked God to “forgive (his) sins.” Attendees recorded parts of the ceremony on their cellphones for release on YouTube. At times the ceremony appears to have the atmosphere of a boring carnival.

Timothy Batts, a convicted felon, kept a loaded gun easily accessible to children in his home (Between January - August 2016, the United States reported one accidental shooting occurred, per week, by toddlers who had found a loaded pistol in their home). He was no stranger to guns and violence, as his criminal record reveals:

2005: Batts was arrested on felony drug charges; affidavits reveal he was arrested for possession of 115 ecstasy pills and four bags of crack cocaine. 

2008: Batts was charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and domestic assault, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI). 

Between 2007-2012: Timothy Batts’ criminal record has four convictions and nine citations for driving on a suspended license or without a license in Davidson County. 

Between 2008-2009: There are three probation violations on his record.

2012: Batts was on probation when arrested for attempted murder: 19-year-old parolee Cheyenne Turner was at a stoplight when an SUV pulled up next to Turner; Batts, a passenger in the SUV, fired shots at Turner, who escaped with a gunshot wound. After a “BOLO” was issued to the public, Batts turned himself in. (Turner was on parole for a 2011 attempted second-degree murder charge; he had shot Batts six times in the back near a Nashville barbershop). 

According to family and friends, Batts has since turned his life around, is a pious Christian, and lives a law-abiding life. “My son … he lived for his kids,” Cutrese Starnes said in an interview. Long Hollow Baptist Church Pastor Adam French told local news that 72 days before the shooting, “he asked Jesus Christ to come into his heart … he’s hurting, and he needs your prayers.” Timea’s mother, Sade Harris, told Tennessean reporters, “He basically moved (to Hendersonville) to better his life and put his kids in a better environment.” Pastor Kenny Smith, who spoke at Timea’s candlelight vigil, told the media, “He corrected his past, going toward his future.”

Sources close to the family say differently. The Department of Human Services (DHS) had made at least one visit to the home. One of Timea’s younger siblings was in the process of being adopted out of the home when the shooting occurred. Despite Cutrese Starnes’ insistence, the family is no stranger to violence, with a history of arrests and convictions.
Was Timothy Batts (seen here with Timea)
high and protecting his drugs, or was it an accidental shooting?

A law enforcement official close to the investigation confides that, while in jail, Batts showed no emotion about Timea: “He seemed more upset that he was (in jail). I never saw him crying about Timea.” Batts did not appear to be sad or worried over the shooting, the officer confides, and the consensus among peers is that Timothy Batts was more concerned for his welfare than that of Timea. “Did you see the video of when he got out (on bond)?” The officer asks. “They (the family, Batts, and well-wishers) were celebrating.” An acquaintance of Timothy Batts repeats a rumor circulating among Hendersonville’s underworld as to how Timea was shot: “he was coming down off a high and thought it was someone coming after his dope” when he fired, accidentally shooting Timea. 

Two of the criminal charges would be amended. The charge of false reporting was dismissed; the state filed it under the wrong bysection of the law. The charge of tampering with evidence was changed to attempt to tamper with evidence. 

In 2017 during the trial, Batts told yet another version of how he shot his daughter. He testified the gun he held went off accidentally, shooting Timea. Days later, a jury convicted Timothy Batts of felon in possession of a firearm but found him “not guilty” of attempting to tamper with evidence, but the jury was deadlocked on the reckless homicide charge in the killing of Timea. When Timothy Batts left the courtroom that day, he was greeted with happy shouts from family and friends. In November the same year, Timothy Batts was sentenced to four years in prison for the shooting death; Batts plead guilty to reckless homicide in exchange that the sentence for possession is served concurrently. “Both convictions carried potential prison stays between two and four years, but Batts will serve his sentence concurrently. The sentence was for at least 30 percent of the 4-year sentence, which comes out to about 14 months.” (Rau) Batts walked out of prison in November 2018. 

There were no petitions for justice for Timea; no one donating money to ensure her voice was heard. She seems to have been lost in the party-like atmosphere of the saga. Timea is just one of over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings under 25 years of age in the United States. Most importantly, she was a little girl, whose first day of school was her last; “who was just a doll,” remembers a neighbor; “she was just a sweetheart.” For a while, there was a cluster of flowers and trinkets near the school bus stop where she last stepped; now, there is a headstone in a cemetery. Pictures of her circulate the World Wide Web. Many of them are of her with her father, shared online by his supporters to prove his parental devotion.

The case divided the community, and two camps are voicing their opinions. One group insists Timothy Batts is a loving family man who has mended his ways, working to make a better life for his children where an unjust system is keeping him down. The opposing voices have no mercy for Batts, citing Sessions Court Judge Hunter’s warning at the hearing: “You only get one shot.” Timothy Batts did use one shot, they argue; he used it to murder his daughter.



Resources include:

Timea's YouTubes- click here

Ingraham, C. (October 2015). “People are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis this year.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/14/people-are-getting-shot-by-toddlers-on-a-weekly-basis-this-year/.

N.a. (Feb. 15, 2012). “Police search for convicted felon in Wednesday’s Rosa Parks Boulevard shooting.” The City Paper. http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/police-search-convicted-felon-wednesdays-rosa-parks-boulevard-shooting.


Nat’l Ctr. for Injury Prevention & Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-Based Injury Statistics Query & Reporting System (WISQARS) Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010, for National, Regional, and States (Dec. 2012), http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/dataRestriction_inj.html (hereinafter WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010.). 


Rau, Nate. (Sept. 1, 2017). “Timothy Batts sentenced to four years for shooting death of his daughter.” Tennessean. Retrieved from https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2017/09/01/timothy-batts-sentencing-live-update/623625001/


U.S. General Accounting Office, Accidental Shootings: Many Deaths and Injuries Caused by Firearms Could Be Prevented 17 (Mar. 1991), at http://161.203.16.4/d20t9/143619.pdf


Wagner, Meg. (Aug. 9, 2016). “Tennessee dad charged with killing 11-year-old daughter after her first day of middle school.” New York Daily Newshttp://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/tenn-dad-charged-daughter-11-1st-day-middle-school-article-1.2743890.


Yankova, D. (Aug. 10, 2016). Father of slain girl has history of gun, drug charges. The Tennessean. http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2016/08/09/father-slain-girl-wanted-metro-police/88457126/

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