Vigil & balloon launch mark what would have been a 5-year-old victim's 6th birthday

CLEVELAND - With the numbing cold outside came the warmth of a family huddling together. Sadly, they did so in grief at a vigil Thursday evening to remember 5-year-old Jermani Brooks on what would have been her 6th birthday.

Jermani's grandmother Ethel Phillips said Thursday with Jermani’s brother crying in her arms, “She’s a beautiful princess. She’s a beautiful angel."

Phillips wanted to address the dozens who came out saying, “I would like to thank everyone for coming out in this cold weather, for their prayers and their support. Happy birthday, Jermani. We love you very much.”

Jermani’s life was taken abruptly just three days earlier when police said a white male exited a green SUV and fired multiple times at a car in which she sat with her mother, and then fled. This happened in front of a house on the 12800 block of Crossburn Avenue at around 11:15 p.m Sunday.

Both Jermani, and her mother, 33-year-old Noni Brooks, were shot. A family member confirmed Noni Brooks was released from the hospital on Thursday.  

Authorities said there were two other children, also in the SUV, who were unharmed.

On Tuesday, Cleveland Police announced the arrest of 32-year-old Geoffrey Gurkovich in connection with the homicide and shooting. 

At a press conference, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath told reporters the shooting stemmed from a domestic altercation and that the intended target was Noni Brooks’ boyfriend, who was in the home close to where the SUV was parked late Sunday.

Gurkovich pled not guilty in court. A judge set his bond at $5 million.

“I want the penalty to be so severe that this will never happen again, in particular, our neighbor here, but anywhere in our city, country or wherever,” said Councilman Martin Sweeny at the Thursday night vigil. “This is something that is, there’s no words to describe it.”

Dozens of pink balloons filled the ski after a balloon launch was held Thursday in honor of the young victim. Kahlid Samad with the organization, Peace in the Hood, told those in attendance the vigil is a celebration of Jermani's life. 

To the community he said, "Stay vigilant, to be aware of the fact that we have some misguided people out there who do things without thinking about it and that don't care about life, and just pray that we can protect our children and our families from these kind of predators."

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