The number of children and teenagers killed by gunfire has risen sharply during the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers describe the increase as a fatal consequence of rising nationwide homicide rates, untreated traumas of Covid-19 and a surge of pandemic gun-buying that is putting more children into close contact with guns — both as victims and those wielding guns.
The CDC reported that the rate of gun deaths of children 14 and younger rose by roughly 50% from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020. Some families said they were frustrated that the shootings- which disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic children and teenagers in poorer neighborhoods- did not seem to stir much wider concern.
“Is it Covid? Is it mental disorders? Are these guns getting into the hands of younger kids?” asked Malissa Thomas-St. Clair, an activist in Columbus who co-founded the group Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children. “There’s nowhere you can hide.”
In Columbus, activists say a rise of chaotic, sometimes inexplicable eruptions of gun violence aimed at kids has left neighborhoods reeling and children too frightened to walk home from bus stops. In 2019, 3 children 17 and younger were killed by gunfire. That number rose to 20 in 2020 and 17 last year.
Bereaved families have begun organizing to demand action from the police & community leaders. Mothers march in matching orange T-shirts and wave posters of their slain children. They visited vigils at murder scenes until one was shot up over the summer.
In Columbus, 2021 began with the murder of two young children. Ava Williams, 9, and her sister, Alyse, 6, were shot and killed by their father, who had spent the pandemic in and out of work and hoarding guns. “I was worried about Covid,” said Vanecia Kirkland, the girls’ mother. “I should have been worried about their father.”
Then in early December came the grim news that another pair of children had been killed. Demetrius Wall’Neal, 9, & his sister, Londynn were climbing into a car with their mother’s boyfriend when gunmen walked up and sprayed the car with bullets, killing all 3.
“How could you kill two babies?” their grandmother wondered. “I just don’t understand. When does it end?”