Chicago Violence

‘Our Kids Are Becoming Extinct': Chicago Children Being Killed by Guns at Faster Rate Than Years Past

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Children in Chicago are dying from gun violence at a rate three times higher than last year, according to a Sun-Times analysis.

Ten children aged 15 or younger have been shot dead so far this year, up from the three children fatally shot during the same time period in 2020, according to Sun-Times records. And that’s more than the number killed in all of 2019, the data shows.

Out of nearly 1,500 shooting victims so far this year, at least 52 victims were 15 and younger, compared to 43 last year, an increase of 21%. The increase in child shooting victims tracks closely with the overall spike in Chicago shootings — adults included — of 20.3%.

When looking at the total number of shootings, the rate of children shot, however, is similar to that of last year. So far this year, 3.4% of all shooting victims were 15 years old and younger — the same percentage of child victims in 2020.

“I don’t understand how we are not as a city absolutely outraged,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a longtime crusader against gun violence who leads St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham. “Our children are becoming extinct.”

The trend continued over the violent weekend, when two teens who were recently shot in the head succumbed to their wounds.

Savanah Quintero, 14, was gunned down last Wednesday in Back of the Yards after her attackers asked if she was in a gang, officials said. Robert Barr, 15, was struck during a May 26 shooting in Englewood that also wounded two other teens and a 22-year-old man. Both of them died on Saturday.

Since they were pronounced, a 15-year-old boy was shot Sunday in Riverdale and an 11-year-old girl was wounded less than three hours later in West Pullman. They were among the nearly 60 people shot in Chicago over the weekend.

Brendan Deenihan, the Chicago Police Department’s chief of detectives, said Monday the girl was visiting from out of town. “She was sitting in a car when another car drove by, gunshots were fired and she was struck,” he said at a news conference.

The girl was hit in the back and seriously wounded, though Deenihan said her condition had stabilized. He noted that detectives were seeking witnesses and videos of the shooting.

Deenihan also told reporters that investigators have “some good videos” related to Savanah’s slaying and may release images soon. But he acknowledged that no arrests have been made in the the recent homicides or the 11-year-old’s shooting.

‘She’s scared somebody’s gonna run up and shoot her’

Earlier this year, the fatal shooting of young Jaslyn Adams garnered national media attention and led to a pair of arrests, as well as a nationwide manhunt.

Jaslyn, a smiley and energetic 7-year-old nicknamed “Pinky,” was sitting in her father’s car on April 18 at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Homan Square when two gunmen got out of an Audi and opened fire.

Jaslyn was shot six times and was later pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital. Her father, Jontae Adams, was wounded in the attack but lived.

Jaslyn’s paternal grandmother LaWanda McMullen said Monday her family is still grieving her granddaughter’s untimely death. McMullen said another 8-year-old granddaughter will no longer play outside because “she’s scared somebody’s gonna run up and shoot her.”

“All they can do is sit in their house and play on their phones because they can’t go outside and play,” McMullen said. “It’s just sad, they’re shooting our babies at parties, friends’ birthday parties, amusement parks.”

Just last week, a co-worker told McMullen that her nephew was shot with his 7-year-old son in the car in Calumet Heights.

“Something needs to be done. What can be done? I don’t know,” McMullen said. “I’m speechless right now because it’s just horrible. It’s horrible.”

Even the young victims that survive are traumatized, said Taal Hasak-Lowy, executive director of Friends of the Children Chicago. Her group, which provides mentors to students in kindergarten through high school in Austin and North Lawndale, said a second grader in her program recently narrowly escaped shots fired at her home.

“These kids have witnessed more violence in their short years than most of us have seen in even the violent movies,” she said. “These are terrifying times and there’s no words that will make somebody feel better. What’s going to make someone feel better is investing in programs and services that can truly make a difference.”

‘This isn’t a shock’

Tamar Manasseh, head of Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings, was saddened but not surprised by the jump in child fatalities so far this year.

“This isn’t a shock,” she said, noting the cluster of calls her longtime anti-violence group receives from reporters every year following annual violence over Memorial Day weekend. “At this point, it almost seems like something that’s supposed to happen.”

This year has the added stress of a city reopening and people moving freely after months in lockdown. On top of that, she warned there are too many guns on the street that end up in the wrong hands.

“People are still poor, and until you find a way to bring more educational and job opportunities to these neighborhoods, this is what you’re going to get every year,” she said. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshops.”

Pfleger said government officials should tackle the issue the same way they handled the COVID-19 pandemic — with massive spending and an all-hands-on-deck approach.

After being cleared to return to St. Sabina following an investigation into sex abuse allegations, Pfleger has spoken out strongly against the rash of shootings that have wounded children, which he called “unacceptable.” Starting this Friday, he plans to again start leading walks to problem areas in an effort to quell tensions and offer support.

“It’s hard to heal when you’re in the middle of a war,” he said. “Every day is a war zone.”

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