‘What in­san­ity is that?’: Guns kill hun­dreds of kids in North Car­olina

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY VIR­GINIA BRIDGES [email protected]­sob­server.com

In Char­lotte, 7-year-old Kevin Calderon Ro­das was wait­ing with other kids for candy to fall from a piñata at his cousin’s birth­day party.

In Durham, Jae­den Sharpe’s fam­ily had stopped at home for the 9-year-old to pick up a Mad­den NFL video game to bring to his grand­mother’s house.

In the mo­ments that fol­lowed, both be­came part of a grim statis­tic: More than 220 chil­dren and teenagers in North Car­olina have died as a re­sult of gun vi­o­lence in the past five years, ac­cord­ing to a McClatchy anal­y­sis of data com­piled by non­profit news or­ga­ni­za­tion The Trace.

Kids and teens have been killed play­ing out­side on Christ­mas Day, and at a high school. Oth­ers have been shot sleep­ing in their beds or wait­ing for the school bus.

Char­lotte and Durham had the most deaths, with

at least 20 each since 2014. Durham’s fig­ures in­clude two deaths in un­in­cor­po­rated Durham County.

Fayet­teville, Greens­boro and Win­ston-Salem fol­lowed with about 30 to­tal deaths, the anal­y­sis found.

The fa­tal shoot­ings in­volve a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing chil­dren play­ing with un­se­cured guns, fam­ily mem­bers who set out to kill loved ones and then them­selves, and teens set­tling con­flicts with guns.

But the killings don’t tell the whole story.

In 2016 and 2017, at least an­other 672 teens and kids in North Car­olina vis­ited a hospi­tal for a firearm-re­lated in­jury and 242 were hos­pi­tal­ized, ac­cord­ing to a N.C. Divi­sion of Pub­lic Health re­port. Un­like the fa­tal­ity num­bers, the in­jury num­bers in­clude in­ten­tional self-harm in­ci­dents.

In Char­lotte, 202 peo­ple 18 and un­der were shot from 2014 to 2018, ac­cord­ing to the Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Po­lice De­part­ment. In Durham, 30 youths were hurt from gun­fire in 2018, the only year the po­lice had sta­tis­tics.

“Any­one could be caught in cross­fire,” said Lisa Craw­ford, who works with the Char­lotte-based Mothers of Mur­dered Off­spring, a non­profit that works to raise aware­ness of the vi­o­lence. “What in­san­ity is that?”

After 14 stu­dents and three staff were killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, school shoot­ing in Park­land, Fla., thou­sands of stu­dents in Wake, Durham, Meck­len­burg and other N.C. coun­ties walked out of school in March to protest gun vi­o­lence.

After the demon­stra­tions died down, the day-to-day work of rais­ing aware­ness to fight gun vi­o­lence has con­tin­ued to be shoul­dered by law en­force­ment, com­mu­nity groups and friends and fam­ily of vic­tims.

Most of the deaths in Durham and Char­lotte ap­pear to have a pat­tern of young teens con­fronting con­flicts with gun­shots at par­ties, in malls and on the streets, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views.

Both coun­ties have high rates of vi­o­lent crime com­pared to the state av­er­age. In 2017, Durham County had a vi­o­lent crime rate of 767.9 in­ci­dents per 100,000 per­sons, and Meck­len­burg County’s was 638.6 per 100,000 per­sons, ac­cord­ing to an an­nual State Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port. The state av­er­age was 383.7.

FIGHT­ING BACK

Chuck Man­ning grew up par­tic­i­pat­ing in Durham’s gun vi­o­lence, but now he works for the city re­search­ing ways to curb it.

Man­ning, 40, says he was nearly 12 when he bought his first gun.

After Man­ning’s friend was shot, he turned to a friend in the neigh­bor­hood who had pur­chased guns be­fore.

“He gave me a ride to Ba­hama,” a ru­ral north­ern Durham County com­mu­nity, Man­ning said.

There, Man­ning said, he and his friend were met by an older man who took him into a back­yard tool shed. He brought out a va­ri­ety of guns that Man­ning couldn’t af­ford un­til he was of­fered a small hand­gun for $35.

Man­ning, in and out of jail and prison since fifth grade, was hired by Bull City United in 2015 to ne­go­ti­ate with shoot­ers to put down their guns.

Since Novem­ber 2016, the Durham County-funded group has tried to ne­go­ti­ate peace in neigh­bor­hoods where con­flicts have left griev­ing fam­i­lies and un­rest in their wake. In 2017 Man­ning started do­ing com­mu­nity out­reach for the city of Durham In­no­va­tion Team, which is ex­plor­ing the causes and so­lu­tions for a hand­ful of so­cial is­sues, in­clud­ing gun vi­o­lence in Durham.

So­lu­tions in­clude ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties that would al­low in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in crime and with con­vic­tions to make dif­fer­ent choices, and men­tors who would help them make that tran­si­tion, Man­ning said.

Craw­ford, with Mothers of Mur­dered Off­spring, said mul­ti­ple fac­tors in­flu­ence shoot­ings, from vi­o­lent video games to easy ac­cess to guns and lack of con­flict-res­o­lu­tion skills.

“If your men­tal­ity is every­body has a gun, and I don’t have a gun, then your men­tal­ity is, I got to get a gun,” Craw­ford said. “I am go­ing to deal with con­flict, and I don’t know how to deal with con­flict any other way.”

The an­swer to gun vi­o­lence isn’t sim­ple, Craw­ford said, but there are sim­ple steps. “We have got to care,” she said. Get in­volved with schools, sports teams and tu­tor, she said. Craw­ford’s seen pos­i­tive adult in­ter­ac­tions change a kid’s out­look and pos­si­bly stop the next shoot­ing.

Jes­sica Hulick, vol­un­teer state leader for the North Car­olina chap­ter of Moms De­mand Ac­tion for Gun Sense in Amer­ica, said the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School shoot­ing and oth­ers that fol­lowed raised aware­ness about gun vi­o­lence.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion lob­bies for gun re­stric­tions, such as back­ground checks be­fore a pur­chase, and plugs vol­un­teers into com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing with youths, Hulick said.

After the high school shoot­ing in Park­land, the state’s chap­ters jumped from eight to 22. Pro­gram par­tic­i­pants also speak at events and to in­di­vid­u­als to raise aware­ness about sta­tis­tics, in­clud­ing the fact that two-thirds of all gun deaths are sui­cides. The or­ga­ni­za­tion sug­gests best prac­tices, such as ask­ing other par­ents if they have a gun in the home be­fore al­low­ing your child to visit.

Meck­len­burg County Sher­iff Garry McFad­den said the num­ber of shoot­ings and deaths doesn’t sur­prise him.

“What sur­prises me is that we know them, but we don’t talk about the is­sues that di­rectly af­fect us, like gun vi­o­lence, with our teens,” he said. “It is go­ing to take an­other cri­sis … for us to say wake up and let’s do some­thing about it.”

PO­LICE EF­FORTS

Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Po­lice Capt. Chris Dozier, who over­sees the de­part­ment’s vi­o­lent crimes divi­sion, said it is hard to an­swer what is driv­ing the killings and the wound­ings of lo­cal youths.

“Ob­vi­ously that is be­com­ing a prob­lem with younger and younger peo­ple,” Dozier said. “It is an epi­demic that we need to take an or­ga­ni­za­tional look to see what is caus­ing this.”

Durham po­lice spokesman Wil Glenn said gang ac­tiv­ity is a fac­tor in the ma­jor­ity of the shoot­ings in Durham.

Both agen­cies have task forces or di­vi­sions that tar­get vi­o­lent crimes, and other ef­forts have in­cluded cam­paigns to raise aware­ness about peo­ple lock­ing their homes and cars and se­cur­ing their guns.

“It’s 9 p.m. Did you lock your car and home?” said a re­cent Durham po­lice tweet. “#9PMRou­tine in full ef­fect.”

The de­part­ments have also turned to ini­tia­tives that work to build re­la­tion­ships with youths. Pro­grams and camps keep kids off the street, but also give youths a sec­ond chance after be­ing charged with mis­de­meanors — and in Char­lotte’s case, low-level felonies. They also in­cor­po­rate teach­ing life skills, such as pick­ing friends, us­ing so­cial me­dia and con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

Such pro­grams help find op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­ents who call the de­part­ment ask­ing for help with their kids and open lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween youths and po­lice, said Lt. LeBraun Evans, with CMPD’s com­mu­nity en­gage­ment divi­sion.

“They will call and text all day long,” Evans said, let­ting of­fi­cers know about po­ten­tial fights and other is­sues.

The Durham Po­lice De­part­ment has also started a com­mu­nity unit in two high-crime pub­lic hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties in which pa­trol of­fi­cers as­sist com­mu­nity im­prove­ment pro- jects, help kids with home­work after school, and or­ga­nize and par­tic­i­pate in trips to the lo­cal pool, the U.S.S. North Car­olina and a water park in Greens­boro.

They have also cre­ated a sup­ple­men­tal unit to re­spond to calls and a pro­gram that of­fers up to $500 for in­for­ma­tion that leads to a felony ar­rest on guns used in crimes.

CMPD has a pro­gram that iden­ti­fies re­peat ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers and as­signs an of­fi­cer to work with them and their fam­i­lies on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. About 85 ju­ve­niles have been iden­ti­fied, he said.

“The goal is to keep it from trans­form­ing from prop­erty to vi­o­lent crimes,” Dozier said.

‘IT’S NOT FAIR’

Maria Ro­das Amaya thought it was fire­works when she heard the pop­ping sound at the Septem­ber 2015 Char­lotte birth­day party for her son’s 2-yearold cousin.

She found her son Kevin, 7, sprawled on the ground, shot. Now, she misses ev­ery­thing about the sec­ond-grader who used to sur­prise adults with his con­ver­sa­tion skills.

Po­lice linked the shoot­ing to mis­taken iden­tity, The Char­lotte Ob­server re­ported, and no ar­rest has been made de­spite the hun­dreds of hours po­lice said they de­voted to the case.

“We have ex­hausted ev­ery lead we have in that case,” Dozier said, adding that doesn’t mean they have given up hope. “I don’t think a week goes by that some­body isn’t look­ing into that case. ”

Dozier said he thinks it is a sit­u­a­tion in which the per­son or peo­ple have in­for­ma­tion but fear that shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with po­lice would iden­tify them.

Now, Amaya lives in fear that her other chil­dren, a 24-year-old and a 10month-old, will be killed.

She mainly wants peo­ple to help po­lice iden­tify Kevin’s killer be­cause she doesn’t want any­one else to go through what she is feel­ing.

“All they need is evi- dence,” Amaya said.

More than a year ear­lier in Durham, the tem­per­a­tures hov­ered just above freez­ing at 6 p.m. on the first Satur­day in Jan­uary 2014.

Jae­den Sharpe’s mother had stopped by their home to pick up a video game.

When they re­turned to their SUV, Jae­den, 9, sat in the back with his cousin, 10. His mom, Lakeisha Hol­loway, sat in the driver’s seat, and his brother, 10, sat in the front.

Sud­denly a man walked up to the car and started shoot­ing. Hol­loway blacked out when a bul­let flew through her nose and lodged in her jaw. She quickly re­gained con­scious­ness and told her old­est son to call the po­lice. As she put the car in re­verse, the win­dows shat­tered and sent glass into her nephew’s eyes. That’s when he started yelling for Jae­den, who had been shot in the head.

Jae­den, the pres­i­dent of his third-grade class, loved to dance and play foot­ball, and he was the peace­maker with Hol­loway’s older kids. “He loved his mama so much,” Hol­loway said.

Three years after the killing, Everett Graves, now 28, was con­victed of Jae­den’s mur­der in a hear­ing that left Hol­loway feel­ing frus­trated and for­got­ten, she said. Graves took an Al­ford plea, mean­ing he didn’t ad­mit guilt, and was sen­tenced to 16 to 20 years for two counts of sec­ond­de­gree mur­der that in­cluded Jae­den and an­other man, the Her­ald-Sun re­ported.

The deal fol­lowed in­con­sis­tent tes­ti­mony given by Hol­loway and no other ev­i­dence to bol­ster the case in which Jae­den was pos­si­bly caught in the cross­fire of a dis­pute be­tween Graves and Jae­den’s fa­ther, pros­e­cu­tors said.

“It’s not fair. How can you only get that amount of time for killing two peo­ple?” Hol­loway said. “If you are black and you kill some­body black, no­body cares.”

In Char­lotte, Jamie Bright, 18, was a line­backer, No. 57, on Hard­ing High’s cham­pion- ship 2017 foot­ball team. He liked to work on cars with his grand­fa­ther, and told his mom he wanted to be a vet­eri­nar­ian.

Those op­tions closed for Jamie when he was shot in his home in July 2018. A 17-year-old friend of Jamie’s now faces a sec­ond­de­gree mur­der charge.

The ac­cused shooter’s in­ten­tion may have not been to shoot Jamie, Dozier said, but “his ac­tions were just so reck­less” he should have known he had the po­ten­tial to kill some­one.

Jamie’s mother, Lakeker Bright, 39, said the so­lu­tion to gun vi­o­lence starts at home.

“Grown-ups not be­ing grown-ups no more. They are not tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity to raise their kids like they are sup­posed to,” she said. “No child should be able to get ahold of a gun.”

Par­ents have to talk to their chil­dren about guns and con­flicts and should be check­ing their rooms, pock­ets and book­bags, she said.

“If you have to be se­cu­rity in your own house, do it” she said. “It will save some­body’s life.”

On the the 15th of ev­ery month, Ar­vestella Tru­eluck strug­gles in her search for an­swers.

That’s the day her son Torry, 16, was shot in Novem­ber 2017 in Durham. No one has been charged, but she has heard vary­ing street ac­counts that say he was in a fist­fight when some­one pulled out a gun and shot him.

“Why couldn’t they just fight with their fists?” she said.

Tru­eluck re­cently learned her cousin and her 10-month-old baby had been shot and killed after the baby’s fa­ther at­tempted a mur­der-sui­cide in Durham on Jan. 11.

“I flashed back,” Tru­eluck said.

She couldn’t stop cry­ing. She didn’t sleep for days.

“It is the why,” she said. “Why do in­no­cent chil­dren have to lose their lives in the hands of some­one else?”

DIEDRA LAIRD [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Lakeker Bright, mother of 18-year-old Jamie Bright, grieves as she re­mem­bers Jamie, who was shot to death by a 17-year-old friend in July 2018. Lakeker Bright is ask­ing par­ents to take ac­tion to stop gun vi­o­lence.

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