More than two years after taking a bullet in the neck, the child once known as Baby Yaya has yet to leave the rehabilitation center where she is learning to walk and talk all over again.
While Yahnajeah Kirkland's fate remains uncertain, the 20-year-old Camden man who fired that shot now knows his future.
Taleaf Gunther was sentenced to 10 years in prison today. He will have to serve at least eight and a half years before becoming eligible for parole.
Gunther fired a gun from a corner in Camden's Centerville section on Oct. 28, 2004, merely "to impress his friends," Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Mary Ellen Murphy said this morning.
Kirkland was riding in the back seat of her mother's SUV when she was hit. The vehicle had just made a turn at South 8th and Ferry streets when the bullet tore through a door, striking Yahnajeah behind and below the left ear.
Yahnajeah, called "Baby Yaya" by her family, was just 2 years old at the time, and she quickly became a symbol of the unchecked violence in Camden. That year was the first of two in a row in which the city was named the nation's "most dangerous" by a research firm.
Baby Yaya celebrated her fifth birthday in December at the Weisman's Children's Rehabilitation Hospital in Marlton, where she has remained since the shooting.
In court this morning, her great-grandmother, Ernestine Drisdome, urged Gunther to seek forgiveness. He seemed to take the advice to heart.
"I'm sorry for what I put the family through . . . I'll come home a better man this time," Gunther said. "I didn't mean it. I was young . . . I hope you all forgive me."