The Washington Post: Children under fire
Almost two dozen kids are shot every day in the U.S.
story by John Woodrow Cox, photo by Ricky Carioti
The bullet exploded from the gun’s barrel, spiraling through cool night air toward a gray SUV’s back passenger-side window. Carter “Quis” Hill was perched in his car seat on the other side of the glass, and as it shattered all around him, the round burrowed into his head, an inch above the right temple. From the boy’s hand slipped a bright-red plastic Spider-Man mask he’d gotten for his 4th birthday, nine days earlier.
A white Pontiac blew past, disappearing into the distance. Carter’s mother, Cecelia Hill, knew it was the same car that had been chasing them for three miles before someone inside fired eight shots at her 2004 Volkswagen in what police would call an extraordinary act of road rage.
Now she shoved her foot against the brake, squealing to a stop in the middle of Interstate 90. In the back seat, her son and daughter snapped forward against their taut seat belts. Carter’s 7-year-old sister, Dahalia Bohles, looked over at him. Shards of glass speckled her dark hair, but she didn’t notice them at first.
Carter was among the last children shot that day. A 24-hour stretch of gun violence that, according to police reports, left girls and boys from one coast to the other maimed or dead.
About 1:10 a.m., in Kansas City, Mo., 803 miles from Cleveland, Jedon Edmond found a gun in his parents’ apartment and pulled the trigger, accidentally firing a round into his face. Jedon, who died at a hospital, was 2.
Eighty minutes later, Damien Santoyo was standing on a porch in Chicago as a car drove by, and someone inside opened fire, striking the 14-year-old in the head. He died at the scene.
Less than two hours after that, at almost the exact same moment, a 15-year-old boy in Louisville was blasted in both legs outside a club, and a 16-year-old girl in Danville, Va., was fatally wounded on a street corner by a round meant for someone else.
Then, on a Metro car just outside the nation’s capital, an 18-year-old man accidentally shot his 14-year-old half brother in the stomach. Then, in Kansas City, Kan., three teenagers were shot inside a car, and two of them, one 16 and the other 17, were killed. Then, in a parking lot in High Point, N.C., a 14-year-old boy caught in crossfire was struck in the arm.
On average, 23 children were shot each day in the United States in 2015, according to a Post review of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s at least one bullet striking a growing body every 63 minutes.
In total, an estimated 8,400 children were hit, and more died — 1,458 — than in any year since at least 2010. That death toll exceeds the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan this decade.
None of those figures feels abstract to Denise Dowd. The emergency room doctor at Children’s Mercy Kansas City has treated at least 500 pediatric gunshot victims in a four-decade medical career that began as a nurse in Detroit. She’s written extensively for the American Academy of Pediatrics and several national medical journals, both about how to prevent children from falling victim to gun violence and, when they do, how it affects them, emotionally and physically.
Dowd can rattle off number after number to illustrate the country’s crisis, but few are more jarring than a study of 2010 World Health Organization data published in the American Journal of Medicine last year: Among high-income nations, 91 percent of children younger than 15 who were killed by gunfire lived in the United States.
Like so many others who have pushed for gun-violence prevention, Dowd saw an opportunity in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which left 20 students and six staff members dead.
She and her colleagues contacted close to two dozen schools and civic organizations in their Midwest community, offering to give presentations about how to protect kids from finding the weapons and harming themselves or someone else.
Then, just as lawmakers in Washington rejected efforts to expand background checks on people buying firearms and dozens of state legislatures continued to ignore pleas that they require guns to be safely locked away, Dowd got her first and only response, from a PTA group. Exactly three women showed up for her speech.
Learn more about the Emergency Departments at Children's Mercy & Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas.