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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Adam Everett

Family 'didn't recognise' innocent schoolgirl after she was shot in street

The family of an innocent girl who was shot as she waited for a bus home from school say they "didn't recognise her" after the shocking incident.

Rio Jones was jailed on Tuesday for life with a minimum term of 16-and-a-half years at Liverpool Crown Court in connection with the shooting on Upper Warwick Street in Toxteth in March last year. The 19-year-old was convicted of attempting to murder rival gang member Shakur Watson, whom he had been chasing on an electric bike when he opened fire six times.

He was also found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm against a 15-year-old girl, who was struck by one of the bullets as she waited at a nearby bus stop with a friend. She was hit in the neck by the shot which caused her lung damage and damaged her vertebrae.

READ MORE: Rio Jones jailed for life after shooting schoolgirl at bus stop

A statement on behalf of her grandma was read out to the court during this morning's hearing. In it, she described the devastating impact of the shooting on the schoolgirl - which the nan said had "changed our lives forever".

The gran said: "My granddaughter is a shy and beautiful natured girl. We are a large family and we all adore her, with her pleasant and polite ways.

"It has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced to watch her go through this dark tragedy when she was simply standing at a bus stop in her school uniform in the middle of the day. She was a happy go-lucky, innocent, cheery little personality.

"She has always been family-oriented - a helpful, supportive and loving child. She is a young person who cares more about her family and supporting them than going out with friends.

"In between attending school and doing her homework, she would always be on hand to help her mum – practically and emotionally - to look after her younger brothers. She is one of those people who fits in anywhere, she helps out automatically, has an easy charm and chooses to spend time with the people she loves.

"She has always worked hard at school to realise her ambitions. It means more than anything in the world to her, to make something of herself.

"She studies hard and has always planned to go to university. Our lives were ordinary but we took pleasure in living and celebrating life together, in supporting her hard work and dedication to realise her dreams.

"That day in March changed our lives forever. Those early months were torturous, the peace of our lives was shattered.

"Although we thanked God every day that she was alive, it was impossible to be grateful when we had to watch her in agonising physical pain from morning until night. The hours turned to days and the days to weeks, followed by long months of watching her suffer.

"She was on so many pain managing drugs that she spent much of the day asleep, unable to engage in conversation because she was unable to speak. The damage to her lungs seemed to take away the power of her breath to talk.

"She was frustrated and isolated, became invisible almost, and we worried that we would never get her back. We would wake in the night to find her in the bathroom, crying in excruciating pain, running cold water on her arm to try and numb the pain that the medication would not take away.

"She had so many wounds to her little body, each of them presenting their own difficulties. They inhibited her movement and her comfort.

"They stopped her functionality and we didn’t recognise her. Ordinary tasks like washing and styling her hair, bathing herself, going to school, eating, everything that made her who she was, vanished – her pride, ambition and peace were stolen from her.

"Our movie nights were replaced with medication rotas. We watched from the sideline, helpless bystanders as our beautiful girl suffered in silence.

"She has not processed the pain she has experienced. It follows her about in her daily life.

"She tries to store it away and is unable to speak about that day, as if by not talking about it makes her experience less real. But she is plagued by night terrors and nightmares.

"Each night, men with guns come to shoot her in the back. She has had only two nights uninterrupted sleep since the shooting happened.

"If she hears a bang, noise or a clap she experiences a flashback and collapses into a crumbling heap, shaking and crying uncontrollably. I’ve had to go to school several times to pick her up after being triggered by an innocent event, too distraught to remain there - her quiet dignity taken from her as she publicly reacts to the terrors of her memory.

"She is triggered by both sounds and visual images. Bus stops are now potential places of death where she feels targeted.

"We are unable to watch movies that contain guns, weapons, men hiding their faces, men on bikes or any sort of violent sequences. We’re unable to mention the incident in front of her or she removes herself from the room.

"She is afraid to go out alone, and we have to arrange chaperones for every outing she has. Her social life has ended along with her independence - I can honestly, truly say that there isn’t one aspect of her life that is untouched."

Jurors heard during Jones' trial that his teenage victim told a woman who came to her aid "I don't want to make a fuss" after she was shot and was asking for her mum. Judge Andrew Menary KC meanwhile paid homage to the strength of the youngster during his sentencing remarks.

The Honorary Recorder of Liverpool said: "She has made a remarkable recovery from her physical injuries, though it is clear that in the period after the shooting she suffered very considerable pain. Her grandmother also talks about the significant ongoing psychological impact, which seriously affects most aspects of her daily life.

"During the trial, I was able to observe her giving evidence. She struck me as a delightful, articulate and intelligent young woman who probably minimizes the effect this incident has had on her."

A jury previously heard that Jones, of Jermyn Street in Toxteth, was chasing Watson through the streets - with both riding electric bikes - shortly after 5pm on March 1 last year when he fired six shots at "at extremely close proximity" on Upper Warwick Street. One bullet struck the other rider, with another hitting the 15-year-old.

She was rushed to Alder Hey Children's Hospital after one of the bullets entered at the right-hand side of the back of her neck and exited via the chest area. The youngster underwent 10 days of treatment before being discharged.

Meanwhile, Watson continued riding for a short distance before knocking on the door of a nearby house. The occupant drove the 20-year-old to the Royal Liverpool Hospital after he was shot in the right arm, requiring surgery after a bullet fractured a bone in his wrist.

In the aftermath Jones disposed of the gun, his bike and the clothes he had been wearing during the shooting. None of these items have since been recovered.

The teen was arrested at his home on March 3, with a search of the property revealing body armour in his bedroom. Jones said in his evidence that he had been stabbed, shot at and run over in a dispute between two groups of feuding former friends in the years leading up to the incident after schism allegedly developed following an unnamed pal's murder in 2017.

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