A dangerous and deadly year: Children caught in the crossfire


CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — It’s been a violent year in Chicago, and around the country.

On Monday night, an 11-year-old Chicago girl was shot while in her bedroom. She is in fair condition, and investigators are still searching for the gunman responsible.

And in South Carolina, a 12-year-old girl is in stable condition after being shot by a classmate at her South Carolina middle school Tuesday morning. The 12-year-old boy accused of firing those shots is now facing felony charges.

The number of shootings and murders increased in many cities across the country this year. Increasingly, it’s kids and teenagers who find themselves in the middle of the gunfire.

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found guns are the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths for children ages one through 17 in the United States. Nearly 1,300 children die, and 5,700 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected.

NewsNation affiliate WGN Investigates took an in-depth look at the struggle to heal from those injuries and the lasting impact on communities. Long after the crime tape comes down, the physical and emotional scars continue.

WGN’s Ben Bradley talked with children who had been wounded, including a 14-year-old boy who suffered a serious brain injury and is relearning how to walk.

“I got shot. In the head. In my foot,” Alonzo recalled. “I had to learn again how to walk, and use my body.”

Alonzo was wounded on a street corner in August, along with his 17-year-old sister.

“Honestly, I’m just glad that we all still here,” he said.

And Bradley heard from parents, whose lives have been forever changed.

“It makes me angry because it’s so stupid,” Miranda Randle-McGruder said.

Randle-McGruder’s 9-year-old son was injured in a drive-by shooting and is now partially paralyzed.

“You’re stealing these kids future,” she said.

Anthony Bell is a former gang member who has worked to put his life on a new track; but when his own daughter was injured in a shooting he saw how slippery the slope can be.

“It was real emotional for me. A part of me wanted to go back to the old me. You know like they say ‘an eye for an eye.’ But I thought about it: What would that be solving?” Bell said.

In all, there has been more than 2,100 kids and teenagers shot and another 275 killed in Chicago since 2015, according to data obtained from Chicago Police.

But this year stands out as one of the most dangerous and deadly. There were 291 kids shot and 41 killed through the end of September, more than in all of last year. 

Arne Duncan is the former head of Chicago Public Schools and co-founder of Chicago CRED, an anti-violence organization.

“This year has been horrific for the city,” he said.

And even more so for the youngest children, those age 12 and younger. A total of 38 have been shot and six killed, the highest numbers in at least the last six years.

“Very naively when we moved to [Washington] D.C. in 2009, I thought things were rock bottom in Chicago,” Duncan said. “It’s been a brutal time.”

Experts say the pandemic is partly to blame, with so many out of school, some on the street, and all with not enough to do.

Tamar Manasseh is the founder and president of nonprofit Mothers Against Senseless Killing.

“There’s no jobs,” Manasseh said. “People are getting laid off. Kids are out of school.”

Factor in the guns that flood Chicago’s streets and Manasseh said, “That’s a recipe for disaster.”

For those who survive their encounter with a bullet, their young lives are forever changed.

NewsNation spoke to Valerie Burgest from “Moms Demand Action” a group dedicated to enacting change when it comes to gun violence. Burgest lost her son in 2013. Watch her interview below:

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