She had just picked up 11-year-old Alexis, one of her twelve children, from school at Brownsville’s P.S. 298. They turned up Watkins Street and walked past the firehouse, on their way to retrieve another one of her girls. They had reached the Peanut Lucky Supermarket—where a sign in the window says “Welcome to Our Store” and graffiti scrawled on the exterior brick reads CRIP—when the shooting started. Rival gang members were having an argument, apparently over a cell phone, and at this moment, around 2:30 in the afternoon on Friday, October 21, the sidewalks still teeming with schoolchildren, one of them, standing on a rooftop, decided to resolve the dispute with a gun. An eyewitness would later tell reporters that when the kids heard the blasts, a lot of them seemed to freeze in place.
Exactly what happened next is foggy, but Kirsten John Foy, director of community affairs for the public advocate’s office, has pieced together this much: In the fractions of seconds after the shooting began, 34-year-old Zurana Horton gathered Alexis and another girl who was standing nearby in her arms. Placing herself in the line of fire, she hovered over them like a bird enveloping her chicks. “By all accounts there wasn’t enough time for her to make a decision about what to do,” says Foy. “It was an instinct.” The police say she probably saved her daughter’s life, as well as that of 11-year-old Cheanne McKnight. Horton was struck in the chest and the base of her neck and died from her wounds.
It’s human to wonder whether you’re the kind of person who would walk in front of bullets to save someone else. For most New Yorkers, that question remains fortunately hypothetical. But for Horton—living in the projects, in Brownsville, where crime rates are some of the city’s very highest—it would always have been terribly real. When the day came, she gave her answer.