Albuquerque Journal

‘They’re taking our kids’

Teen shootings aren’t strictly a big-city phenomenon. An AP/USA TODAY study finds small cities like Wilmington, Del., are proving to be just as dangerous.

- BY JULIET LINDERMAN, BRITTANY HORN, ESTEBAN PARRA AND LARRY FENN ASSOCIATED PRESS/USA TODAY NETWORK

WILMINGTON, Delaware — When the shots rang out — “pop, pop, pop,” then a thunder roll of gunfire — Maria Williams hit the floor. The bullets sprayed through her front door and window, leaving perfectly cylindrica­l holes in the glass. They blasted across the nursery, where her 2-year-old daughter’s toys were strewn on the carpet. They burrowed into the kitchen cabinetry — and hit her teenage son and daughter. Amid their screams, “All I could think of was, ‘I’m not losing another child,’ ” Williams recalled, tears streaming down her cheek. Her 18-year-old stepson — William Rollins VI, known as Lil Bill — had been gunned down two years before, another victim of Wilmington’s plague of teens shooting teens. His shooter was 17.

Wilmington isn’t Chicago or Los Angeles, Baltimore or Detroit. It is a city of less than 72,000 people known primarily as the birthplace of chemical giant DuPont and as a cozy home for big banks and Fortune 500 firms. But an Associated Press and USA TODAY Network analysis of Gun Violence Archive data — gathered from media reports and police press releases, and covering a 3½ year period through June of this year — reveals that Wilmington far and away leads the country in its rate of shootings among young people ages 12 to 17.

“It’s nonstop, just nonstop,” said William Rollins V, father of the teenagers. “Around every turn, they’re taking our kids.”

Of the 10 cities with the highest rates of teen shootings, most had population­s of less than 250,000 people. Among them were Savannah, Ga.; Trenton, N.J.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Fort Myers, Fla.; and Richmond, Va. Chicago was the lone large-population city high on the list.

Poverty and a sense of hopelessne­ss in the most violent neighborho­ods is a common thread. Syracuse, a university town that once cranked out air conditione­rs and television­s, now has a poverty rate of 35 percent.

Size may also play a role. In tightly packed neighborho­ods, insults

and perceived insults ricochet like shots in an echo chamber. One shooting inevitably leads to speculatio­n about who will be targeted next.

“The streets remember,” said Mark Denney, a state prosecutor who is trying to end Wilmington’s retaliator­y warfare.

In Wilmington, data from the Gun Violence Archive show that roughly 3 out of every 1,000 adolescent­s are injured or killed annually from gun violence. That is almost twice the rate reported from Chicago and just over 9 times the national average as reported for 2015 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Nov. 3, 2015, Rayquan Briscoe was walking down Maryland Avenue for an appointmen­t with his probation officer on a drug conviction. He heard gunshots. Briscoe tried to run, but his legs failed him: He’d been struck in the back, just to the right of his spinal column. He was paralyzed from the waist down. He was 17 years old.

“Bullets don’t have no names,” he said. Although Briscoe said he has never carried a gun, guns have had an outsized impact on his young life.

Last year, Briscoe’s father was shot to death. Rayquan’s younger brother, Raymire, was just 14 when he was charged with murder in the May 2014 killing of a 29-year-old man; he pleaded guilty to manslaught­er and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Despite all that, Briscoe said there are legitimate reasons for teens in Wilmington to arm themselves.

“Somebody after you with a gun, your only other option is to pick up a gun,” he said.

The news organizati­ons sought to measure teenage gun violence in America’s cities because it is something the federal government does not track on a regular and comprehens­ive basis.

Nearly a quarter of Wilmington’s residents live below the poverty line, and 86 percent of the city’s youth receive some form of state assistance.

About 30 active street crews exist in Wilmington today, estimated David Kennedy, a national expert in criminolog­y who has for years studied the city’s crime problem. Prosecutor­s say these crews, made up of roughly 20 people per group, are responsibl­e for most of Wilmington’s crime.

A yearlong investigat­ion by The News Journal, Gannett’s Wilmington newspaper that is part of the USA TODAY Network, detailed a veritable war between two groups — Only My Brothers and Shoot to Kill. A News Journal analysis of court records, social media and the newspaper’s internal database found that a third of the shooting victims under age 21 during the first seven months of 2016 had links to the rivalry.

Mayor Mike Purzycki said some of the blame can be laid on a “fractured education system” that sends children on buses to schools in rival neighborho­ods. Many fathers are either in prison or have past conviction­s that make it difficult for them to find good jobs.

Wilmington officials have desperatel­y cast about for solutions — without success, at least so far.

In December 2013, City Council President Hanifa Shabazz asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigat­e. It would be the agency’s first inquiry into gun violence as a public health epidemic. The agency found that, between 2009 and 2014, 15 percent of the people arrested in Wilmington for a firearms crime were under the age of 18.

The CDC recommende­d that agencies share informatio­n such as school truancy records, child welfare reports and emergency room visits to identify minors who need help earlier in life to avoid violence later. But after closing a $400 million budget gap through a combinatio­n of tax hikes and spending cuts, Delaware Gov. John Carney said the state doesn’t have the money to execute the CDC’s plan.

The community, meanwhile, is pressing forward on its own.

Derrick Reed, who owns His Image Barber Lounge near Wilmington’s Little Italy, began holding sessions for teens at his shop on Monday evenings.

Latisha Jackson organized 302 MAFIA (302 is Wilmington’s area code; MAFIA stands for Mothers and Fathers In Action) to create a support system for those returning home from prison, and to wake parents up to the possibilit­y that their children are becoming caught up in dangerous activity: Her two boys were recently indicted on gun charges; the younger one also pleaded guilty to a gang charge as well. She said she had no idea.

“The craziest thing about it is, these kids are accepting it,” William Rollins said. “Like, they’re accepting going to jail for life. They’re accepting getting put in the grave. But they don’t realize the effect that they do to everybody else around them.”

 ?? PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? A bullet hole pierces a “no trespassin­g” sign at the home of William Rollins V and his wife, Maria WIlliams, in Wilmington, Del., on July 27, the day after the home came under gunfire. Their teenage son and daughter were both shot and wounded in their...
PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS A bullet hole pierces a “no trespassin­g” sign at the home of William Rollins V and his wife, Maria WIlliams, in Wilmington, Del., on July 27, the day after the home came under gunfire. Their teenage son and daughter were both shot and wounded in their...
 ?? PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Maria Williams stands on her front porch in Wilmington, Del., on July 27, 2017, the day after her teenage son and daughter were shot and wounded while standing on the same porch. As she took cover inside and heard her kids’ screams, “All I could think...
PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS Maria Williams stands on her front porch in Wilmington, Del., on July 27, 2017, the day after her teenage son and daughter were shot and wounded while standing on the same porch. As she took cover inside and heard her kids’ screams, “All I could think...
 ?? ALLEN G. BREED ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Rayquan Briscoe sits outside his home in Wilmington, Del., on July 25, 2017. On Nov. 3, 2015, he was walking down Maryland Avenue for an appointmen­t with his probation officer on a drug conviction. He heard gunshots. Briscoe tried to run, but his legs...
ALLEN G. BREED ASSOCIATED PRESS Rayquan Briscoe sits outside his home in Wilmington, Del., on July 25, 2017. On Nov. 3, 2015, he was walking down Maryland Avenue for an appointmen­t with his probation officer on a drug conviction. He heard gunshots. Briscoe tried to run, but his legs...
 ??  ?? SOURCE: AP/USA TODAY analysis of Gun Violence Archive data
SOURCE: AP/USA TODAY analysis of Gun Violence Archive data

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