Children Under Fire | St. Louis Public Radio

Children Under Fire

Claudia Graham and Cassidy Stokes, both age 15, pose for a portrait at Normandy High School.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Cassidy Stokes thought it would be him, not his younger brother, who’d be the first to encounter a bullet.

“It just scared me, traumatized me,” the 15-year-old said about the time his brother accidentally wounded himself with a gun he’d picked up.

Claudia Graham, also 15, relies on prayer to get home safely every night. Her sister was shot and injured by an upset boyfriend “basically for no reason.” Guns scare her. People shoot before thinking, she said, but as a young woman, she’d carry one for protection.

A student at Ashland Elementary School in St. Louis does a mindfulness exercise. The school uses the practices to help its children regulate trauma caused by violence and poverty. Jan. 8, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The crackle of gunshots has become white noise for children living in parts of north St. Louis.

“I got used to it,” a fifth grade girl said, “because it happen a lot, so I’m just not scared of it no more.”

They know just what to do if they’re inside: 

“When I hear gunshots, I duck on the floor and get under my bed,” said a sixth grade boy.

Children Under Fire is a series examining how communities are affected when children are killed by gun violence.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 27 

It's a horrific crime: the killing of a child. In St. Louis in 2019, it's been repeated again and again. Since Memorial Day weekend, nine children have been killed by gun violence in the city. All of the victims have been black.

As part of Children Under Fire, an ongoing series examining the reasons for the shootings and providing insight into how communities are affected, St. Louis Public Radio will tell the stories of the shooting victims. 

To help students cope with environmental stressors, Emerson Academy offers therapy sessions, a specialized curriculum and a violence intervention program. Oct. 2, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Early this spring, Shamyia Ford Jennings, 17, walked with her cousin and a friend to a corner store in north St. Louis. Minutes later, she was in St. Louis Children’s Hospital with a bullet wound in left leg. Her friend had also been shot, in the foot. 

And a couple of summers ago, Devin Smith, 16, was playing basketball on the playground with family members when someone fired shots in his direction. His cousin was hit in the drive-by. 

Darren Seals, the founder of an anti-violence group called the Sankofa Unity Center, speaks on Sept. 24, 201 in favor of a bill that allocates about $5 million for a program called Cure Violence. The measure passed the public safety committee unanimously.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Oct. 3 with approval by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment

Funding to start a nationally recognized anti-violence program in St. Louis has cleared another hurdle. 

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which oversees the city’s budget, approved spending $5 million of the city’s $23 million surplus on Cure Violence. The vote on Thursday comes less than a week after the Board of Aldermen gave unanimous first-round approval to the money, and sets up a final board vote on Friday.

Tammy Riley poses for a photo with her granddaughter, Frankii, who never met her father.  Frank Sessions was shot and killed before she was born. (Sept. 28, 2019)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A portrait of Frank “Nitty” Sessions hangs on the wall at Nitty’s Salon 1 and Retail on Natural Bridge Road, high above the manicure station.

Tammy Riley’s daughter Tameya named the salon after her brother, who was shot and killed outside a north St. Louis bar in 2009. He was 24.

For Riley, her son’s photo is a constant reminder that his life was cut short. Superimposed on the image is a poem he wrote years earlier, “24 Things to Remember and One Thing to Never Forget.”

“Number 24 is, ‘Don’t ever forget, for even a day, just how much I do really love you,’” read his mother, though it’s clear she had the poem memorized.

Children Under Fire is a series examining how communities are affected when children are killed by gun violence.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Ten children have been shot to death in St. Louis since Memorial Day weekend — more than the total number of young people killed by guns in all of 2018.

The cause of the increase has vexed police, researchers and those who work with victims of violence.

Cards classmates of Jurnee Thompson made after she was shot and killed in the second week of school. Jurnee, 8, was in third grade. Aug. 30, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Eddie Hill IV never showed up for the fifth grade. The 10-year-old was shot and killed enjoying his summer vacation from his front porch in the Lewis Place neighborhood, which borders the Central West End. 

His death has upended the school year for his former classmates at Pamoja Preparatory Academy at Cole. 

Eddie is one of a dozen children who have died in violence so far this year, part of a dizzying streak of young children being killed by bullets not meant for them, while doing things a kid is supposed to be doing in the summer: playing in the yard, eating pizza and going to football games.