Leonard Smith Jr. would enter sixth grade this fall at an elementary school in East St. Louis, Ill. But he acted more like his older teenage siblings than his 11-year-old peers. “Little James”–the name he requested because he didn’t like people calling him Leonard–dreamed of becoming a lawyer. He could summarize episodes of Law & Order and fill in details if a family member missed part of the show. Earlier this year a family friend bought him a PlayStation 3, a reward promised to him if he earned all As on his report card. “He was quiet on some things, but if you held a conversation with him, he would speak up. He was outspoken for being 11 years old,” his mother, Danisha Combs, told msnbc.
Leonard enjoyed cooking alongside his parents. He’d recently made pork and rice with his mother and chicken and French fries with his father. He was the youngest of six children and was already the uncle of two nieces and a nephew. Whether it was changing a diaper or preparing a baby bottle, he never failed to offer help. He was looking forward to the fall because he would be eligible to play basketball on his school’s team.
Leonard was fatally shot by a six-year-old child during a barbecue at a family friend’s residence in Belleville, Ill., on July 17. The investigation is ongoing.