Manhunt underway after 6-year-old girl, parents shot over basketball rolling into neighbour's yard

By Dianne Gallagher, Eric Levenson and Jamiel Lynch for CNN

A manhunt is underway near Charlotte, North Carolina, for a man who reportedly shot a 6-year-old neighbour and her parents after a basketball rolled into his yard.

Robert Louis Singletary, 24, should be considered armed and dangerous, Gaston County Police said. He's 6-foot-2 and about 223 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair.

According to several neighbours, the incident began Tuesday when a basketball rolled into Singletary's yard and he yelled at the kids who went to retrieve it. One of the kids told his father, who then went to Singletary's house and said something to the effect of "stop cussing my kid out, if you got a problem come to me and we can work it out," according to three neighbours.

Singletary then walked inside, came out with a gun and opened fire at the neighbours, wounding a 6-year-old girl and her parents, the neighbours said.

"We never expected anybody would break a gun out amongst all those kids," neighbor Jonathan Robertson told CNN affiliate WBTV. "I mean that was insane."

The 6-year-old girl said she was hit in the cheek and described to WBTV her understanding of what happened.

"I couldn't get inside in time so he shot my daddy in the back," she said.

“Why did he shoot my daddy and me?” she asked the reporter.

The girl's mother, Ashley Hildebrand, told CNN doctors removed bullet fragments from her daughter's cheek and noted that her own elbow was grazed by a bullet. She said they had nothing to do with the basketball game; the family was outside grilling and her daughter was riding her bike.

Police would not confirm what started the Tuesday night shooting in Gastonia, citing the investigation.

The incident was another case in the past week in which young people were shot after making a common blunder, including two teen cheerleaders mistakenly approaching someone else's vehicle in a Texas grocery store parking lot, a 16-year-old who rang the wrong doorbell in Kansas City and a 20-year-old who turned into the wrong New York driveway.

The shootings reflect the consequences of a country with more civilian guns than people, according to the Small Arms Survey, and the toxic stew of fear, paranoia and distrust that influences so many and leads to violence.

In the Gaston County shooting, the father -- identified by family as William "Jamie" White -- was seriously injured and remains hospitalized, police Chief Stephen Zill said Wednesday evening in a statement.

"He is just taking it day by day," White's mother, Debbie Wykle White, told CNN over a text message. "He's in a lot of pain and he's worried about his family with (the suspect) being on the run and him in the hospital not being able to protect his wife and kids."

The girl and her mother have been treated and released, police said. Another man also was shot at but not hurt, police said in a news release.

Neighbours say suspect had yelled at children before

For Singletary, police have secured warrants for four counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, police said.

"I want to say to the people of Gaston County -- this sort of violence will not stand," Zill said, adding the US Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force is helping hunt for Singletary.

Robert Louis Singletary is wanted by police
Robert Louis Singletary is wanted by police Photo credit: Gaston County Police

Several neighbours at the scene told CNN that Singletary had just moved into his house a few weeks ago and since then had often yelled at kids for being in his yard.

They described him as acting like he "hated children" in the neighbourhood, often angry about them playing in and running through his yard, and he had several issues with kids and their parents.

One neighbour -- who didn't want her name to be used -- told CNN he had complained to her about the kids running through his yard a little before the shooting happened. She said she informed him her grandson was already inside and he left.

In Tuesday's shooting, the father who confronted Singletary ran away and was not injured, the neighbours said.

Robertson, who lives across the street, and another neighbour said Singletary got a "look in his eyes" and started walking in the direction of other parents and kids and began shooting.

The neighbours described Singletary as having his arm stretched out, just "shooting, pow, pow, pow" as he went down the street. They said the scene was chaotic, as kids and parents were running through yards trying to get to safety.

The neighbors are now all very nervous, and several told CNN they have not slept out of fear, as Singletary has not been caught and they are afraid he may come back to the neighbourhood.

Singletary was charged in December with assault and kidnapping for allegedly attacking his girlfriend with a mini-sledgehammer and keeping her inside his apartment for over two hours, police said in a statement.

The charges are pending and he has not entered a plea in the case, Gaston County Superior Court clerk Jennifer Davis said. Singletary was released on a $250,000 bond on December 15, records show.

CNN has reached out to his defense attorney, Cameron Harrison, for further comment.