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Zahira Smith is the latest Rochester student killed by gunfire this school year

Children walk by the property where 16-year-old Zahira Smith was shot and killed.
Max Schulte
Neighborhood kids who were just dropped off by a school bus walk past 221 Emmerson where Zahira Smith, 16, of Rochester was shot and killed while attending a birthday party Saturday night.

Outside James Monroe High School, parent Mahala Holmes waits to pick up her stepson after school on Monday.

It’s his first day at school since his classmate, Zahira Smith, was killed. Smith was fatally shot at a birthday party at a house on Emerson Street on Saturday.

He found out about it through a TikTok video.

“He just happened to see the video of RIP,” Holmes said. “And it was just heartbreaking for him to see it and to know like, ‘I just saw her Friday.’”

The plan today is to keep the same after-school routine for her stepson, she said, something that doesn’t include much outside time.

“It's a safety concern,” she said. “You know, where can our kids go that they're safe – a simple barbecue, a family gathering or where they can't social together and be safe – that's the fear. It’s just everywhere.”

At least three city school students have been shot this school year. Bryson Simpson, 17, was shot and killed after stepping off a school bus in March. A classmate, Salahuddin Floyd Jr., was arrested in late May for Simpson’s killing.

Another 17-year-old city student was shot while walking to a bus stop in October. He survived a gunshot wound. So far, city police say there is no one in custody for Smith’s slaying.

emmerson 3.jpg
Max Schulte
A memorial outside 221 Emmerson where Zahira Smith, 16, of Rochester was shot and killed while attending a birthday party Saturday night.

A memorial now stands along the fence of the house where Smith was killed. According to a spokesperson with Airbnb, while the house where the party was held was listed on their site, there was no reservation made through their website on that date.

Across the street at the base of a telephone pole, a cluster of glass candle holders are caked into the ground, remnants of what appears to be an old memorial.

The killing “dims the light,” city school board commissioner Camille Simmons said. “Unfortunately, there's young people that don't even have a high expectation of their life expectancy in some cases.”

Simmons wants to see more proactive approaches within the school district to prepare students with conflict resolution skills as early as 3rd grade, and more mentorship opportunities so students have at least one trusted adult they can turn to.

Right now, she said the reality is heartbreaking.

“All these students just had their prom and that's what you think of when you think of 16 years old, someone that's going to be graduating in a few years, someone who's going to get their first job, they're gonna go to prom, they're gonna get a first car,” Simmons said. “You don't want to think of a 16-year-old, being murdered during a sweet 16 party.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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