WASHINGTON — Rufus Thomas Hayes, 8, says he heard the gunshot that killed his mom Wednesday, that he felt it cut through the top of his hair.
He'd ducked down, the sheer instinct for a young boy who says he's heard gunshots almost every day since he moved to Grant Park neighborhood of Northeast Washington when he was four.
Then he looked over and saw his mom, shot in the head, her blood on his clothes. He jumped out of the backseat of his aunt's car screaming.
Rufus is strong, not crying. But his aunt, Marilyn Thomas, weeps as she describes hearing glass shattering, and looking back to see her sister, Pamela, dying, and her nephew, terrified.
"He got out of the back seat and said, 'They shot my mom, they shot my mom!' she said. "I ran around there and I looked at her. And she was slumped over. She was slumped over on her seat. And I hollered for the police, 'We need help! We need help!'"
Marilyn had just picked up her sister and nephew to head over to her granddaughter's birthday party. Rufus was in the back seat next to the sheet cake and chicken wings they were bringing to the party.
They'd driven just a couple of blocks from her home on 54th Street, NE. In the 600 block of Division Ave., near a small strip of stores and Marvin Gaye Park, police say someone started shooting at someone else, and a stray bullet exploded through the back of Marilyn Thomas' car and killed her sister.
Rufus is now staying with his aunt in Prince George's County. But the third grader says he misses his mom "infinitely."
"She told me a story when I had a nightmare," he said. "Every time I woke up, she'd give me cereal."
He says he had a lot of nightmares. "Like people shooting. My mom getting killed. My dad getting killed. Me getting killed," he said, describing them.
But two of those nightmares are now real. Months before his mom's death, he says both his biological dad and his stepdad died, one from cancer, the other after getting hit by a truck. Marilyn confirmed the tragedies.
Rufus is eager to talk about what happened to his mom, but he's not sure when he'll be strong enough to go back to school.
Marilyn says her sister, "loved her son, wouldn't let anyone keep her son from when he was born until today." She said she, "loved music, loved to dance, dance all over the place. The life of the party."
A GoFundMe organized by Marilyn to help Rufus has raised a little over $2,000.
The family is another in a seemingly endless series of victims of gun violence, completely innocent bystanders, DC Police Chief Robert Contee said.
Rufus says in his neighborhood, it seems to happen all the time.
"Every time they would shoot at someone, they miss, and they shoot someone else," the boy said.
Marilyn Thomas says she saw someone running, with police running after him, but it all happened so fast, she says she never got a good enough look to offer a solid description.
Police are still looking for Pamela Thomas' killer. The reward for information is now up to $40,000.
"Turn yourself in. Please, turn yourself in," she said. "I'm praying for you. I'm praying God have mercy on you, but you got to turn yourself in."
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the police at 202-727-9099. Additionally, anonymous information can be submitted to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE by sending a text message to 50411.