ST. LOUIS — Children in St. Louis have been the victim of homicides at 10 times the national rate for decades, according to a newspaper's analysis of FBI data.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that the city's child homicide rate is far greater than that of other cities of a similar size; it is quadruple that of Indianapolis and Kansas City, Missouri, triple Milwaukee's, and double that of Baltimore.
Twelve children ages 17 and younger have been homicide victims in St. Louis this year, an alarming figure that has prompted Gov. Mike Parson to assign Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers to help out in the city. The analysis found that 584 children have been killed in the city since 1990, and that 418 of those were in the predominantly black north St. Louis.
"Even if not another bullet went into someone's body in St. Louis, nobody else gets hurt, our children have collectively experienced enough violence for a lifetime," said Washington University trauma surgeon Laurie Punch, an expert on gun violence.
Emma Harrington knows the pain all too well. Two of those child victims called her "granny."
Harrington's house was full of kids in 1991, when two of her daughters and six of their children lived with her. One of the grandchildren was 7-year-old Aaron, a high-achieving second-grader.
In October 1991, Aaron was playing with four other children in the front room when a shot was fired into the home. Aaron was struck in the heart.
"I got shot! I got shot!" the little boy yelled out. He quickly collapsed. He was dead by the time the adults got him to the hospital.
Three people were soon arrested. A 17-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A 15-year-old who police believe fired the fatal shot was acquitted at trial. Prosecutors dropped the case against the third suspect, a 16-year-old.
Witnesses told detectives that the shooting stemmed from an ongoing gang feud.
Harrington thought about moving after Aaron was killed, but never saw much of a choice.
"Where am I going?" she said. "When you're poor, you're not going anywhere."
Within a couple years of Aaron's death, Harrington was raising 10 children — nine grandchildren along with Derrion Williams, the child of her daughter's friend who was born while his mother was in prison. Harrington didn't want the child to end up in foster care, so she picked him up from prison five hours after his birth and raised him. He called her granny.
In September 2008, when Derrion was 16, he was riding in a car with two other teens when another car pulled up next to them in a gas station and shot him. He was one of 16 children and teens killed in St. Louis that year.
The deaths of the children "wrecked us," Harrington said. "It really did. Something like that destroys a family on down the line."