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‘Senseless’: Family shares heartbreaking story after Akron man, 4-year-old killed by gunfire

AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – A family is sharing their heartbreaking story after gunmen opened fire on a celebration of life event Friday night, killing an Akron man and his 4-year-old niece.

The family of 40-year-old Johnny Gaiter says he and a group of relatives and friends were at a balloon release in Akron, marking the the birthday of a loved one who was murdered in 2021.

Akron police say, without warning, up to three gunmen sprayed the crowd with gunfire.

“If you were to light a whole pack of firecrackers, that’s literally what it sounded like, going through the whole pack, just going anywhere,” said Melinda Gaiter, Johnny’s wife.

Relatives say Johnny tried to protect his grand niece, 4-year-old Journei Tolbert, and other family members.

“He was trying to get everybody and those kids out of the way because there was gunfire going everywhere, you know, so he was trying to protect everybody, get his family out of the way,” said Golina Gaiter, Johnny’s mother.

“I was standing right next to him and when it happened, he just looked towards me and he just said ‘run’ and he was backing all the kids up,” said Melinda.

Melinda called 911 after she witnessed the 4-year-old get hit by one of the bullets, but she didn’t realize her husband had been hit as well.

“A friend came up and said ‘Johnny was shot’ and I just ran to him and just dropped and just held him,” she said.

Johnny and Journei had both been killed in the hail of bullets.

“I can’t even begin to express the pain that has caused our family, taking this man from us. It was so senseless. It was selfish,” Melinda said. “I just can’t even imagine what goes through their mind for you to just spray into a crowd of just babies.”

The death of little Journei is the latest in a series of tragic events that have left her family devastated.

In addition to the family member killed last year, the 4-year-old’s aunt, Jaymeisha Beasley, died in May when she was struck by a hit and run driver after being ejected from a car involved in an accident.

Then, Beasley’s fiancée, 25-year-old Jayland Walker, was shot to death by eight Akron police officers on June 27 after leading police on a pursuit, during which officers reported he fired a gun.

Akron police are now trying to identify the gunmen who took so much away from Johnny and Journei’s families.

“It appears they indiscriminately shot. I’m sure they were motivated by something or targeting someone in the group, but if you have 50 or 60 people in a crowd, I don’t know how you could narrowly expect to accomplish the foolishness that you were aiming to accomplish,” said Lt. Mike Miller.

The loved ones of the two victims have this message for the killers.

“These kids, they’ve got to put these guns down. They have got to put these guns down. You all are taking people’s lives, you all are taking people away from their children, their grandchildren, their mothers, their wives, their sisters, their brothers and it’s not fair. It’s just not fair.”