Baltimore Sun

More kids dying from gun violence

Deaths this year are on pace to be worse than spike in 2020

- By Jim Salter and Claudia Lauer

ST. LOUIS — Gun violence is killing an increasing number of American children, from toddlers caught in crossfires to teenagers gunned down in turf wars, drug squabbles or for posting the wrong thing on social media.

Shootings involving children and teenagers have been on the rise in recent years, and 2021 is no exception. Experts say idleness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shares the blame with easy access to guns and disputes that too often end with gunfire.

LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who loved dinosaurs and basketball, was sleeping on the floor in an apartment in Kansas City, Missouri, when he was shot on June 29, 2020. A man who had been involved in a dispute with LeGend’s father is awaiting trial for second-degree murder. A probable cause statement said the suspected shooter had been trying to find LeGend’s dad after that altercatio­n.

“Why do we have to resort to violence because we’re mad?” LeGend’s mother, Charron Powell, asks.

The U.S. saw 991 gun violence deaths among people 17 or younger in 2019, according to the website Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings from more than 7,500 law enforcemen­t, media, government and commercial sources. That number spiked to 1,375 in 2020, and this year is on pace to be worse. Through last Wednesday, shootings

had claimed 1,165 young lives and left 3,216 youths injured.

FBI data backs that up. The agency released a report Sept. 28 showing homicides in the U.S. increased nearly 30% in 2020, and homicides among people ages 19 and younger rose more than 21%. Horror stories abound. In St. Louis, 9-year-old Caion Greene died in March when someone opened fire on his family’s car. A 17-yearold is charged in the crime. Police and prosecutor­s have declined to discuss a motive or say what prompted the shooting.

On Oct. 2 in Milwaukee,

an 11-year-old girl was killed and a 5-year-old girl was injured when someone fired into their family’s car from another vehicle. Police have not said if they know of a motive and are seeking informatio­n from the public.

More often, the victims are teenagers.

Jamari Williams and Kentrell McNeal, both 15-year-old students at Simeon Career Academy High School in Chicago, were killed in separate shootings Sept. 21. No arrests have been made and police declined to speculate on what led to the shootings.

At Philadelph­ia’s Simon Gratz High School Mastery Charter, five students were killed and nine others were shot or shot at during the last school year. Just weeks into the new school year, two students and a recent graduate have been killed. The school offers a space for memorials to slain students, often helps with funeral expenses and offers counseling services.

“We have gotten exceptiona­lly good at knowing what to do, and how to offer help when a young person loses their life ... we have gotten really good at that,” principal Le’Yondo Dunn said.

A March report from the Children’s Defense Fund found that child and teen shooting deaths reached a 19-year high in 2017 and have remained elevated. Black children and teenagers were four times more likely than whites to be fatally shot.

The fund’s president and CEO, the Rev. Starsky Wilson, said a spike in gun sales during the pandemic has made things worse.

“There are more guns available on the street and there are folks with less opportunit­y to engage in productive activity,” Wilson said. “A combinatio­n of those two is really challengin­g.” Social media also plays a role, experts say.

A posted insult can turn quickly into retaliatio­n, said Jason Smith, a homicide division captain in Philadelph­ia.

“Social media makes it so easy to throw that disrespect,” Smith said. “They’re doing it in real time.”

The Justice Department sought to address the violence through “Operation Legend,” named for LeGend Taliferro. His mother takes comfort in the fact that her son’s death helped spur a national effort that resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Still, the pain never goes away.

“It’s really a mental battle to get through every day,” Powell said. “It’s really difficult to know he’s not here, and I won’t hear his voice.”

On the day before Father’s Day last year, someone fired shots at a group of boys on the front porch of a Chicago home.

The bullet missed the boys but pierced a window into the dining room where Amaria Jones, 13, was showing her mom a dance routine she was perfecting for TikTok.

The bullet shattered a TV and everyone scattered for safety.

When Amaria’s mother returned, she found her daughter on the floor, holding her wounded neck and trying to call out, “Mom.”

Amaria was pronounced dead at a hospital. No arrests have been made.

“I grew up in this neighborho­od, and I’ve been around a lot of gun violence,” Mercedes Jones, Amaria’s 28-year-old sister, said. “I’ve ducked bullets flying near my head. I’m used to that. Not Amaria. She didn’t hang out like me. She didn’t know that lifestyle.”

 ?? TERESA CRAWFORD/AP ?? Amaria Jones’ grave is decorated for what would have been her 15th birthday last month in Hillside, Ill.
TERESA CRAWFORD/AP Amaria Jones’ grave is decorated for what would have been her 15th birthday last month in Hillside, Ill.

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