REMEMBERING OUR CHILDREN LOST TO GUN VIOLENCE IN 2017

Thirty-seven children in Missouri under the age of 18 were killed by gun violence during 2017. Some were little more than babies. Some were curious kids in elementary school. Some were boisterous teenagers. Many were on the cusp of adulthood.  They were as individual as their fingerprints, and they were uniquely vulnerable in the way they met death:  at the end of the barrel of a gun.

 

Each of these children was somebody’s son or daughter, someone’s sibling, someone’s adored grandchild, someone’s niece or nephew.  Each died entirely too young in a manner that should be completely unacceptable to us.  We will remember them.

 

Sa’nya LaTrinity Faith Hill  10 years old

Carthage, Missouri

January 13, 2017

Carthage had closed its schools on Friday, January 13 in anticipation of a winter storm.   Three children were in a home alone:  Sa’nya, aged 10, and two boys ages 12 and 13.   One of the boys found a hidden handgun and “unintentionally” fired it.    When the police arrived Sa’nya was unconscious and in critical condition on arrival at the hospital.  She died later that evening.

Sa’nya attended Carthage Middle School  where she was an Honor Roll Student. Her favorite class was Art. Sa’nya was an active member of her Baptist Church  where she was in a Girls’ Christians Ministry Group. She also was active in her community donating and handing out clothing to people in need.

 

Toni Stevenson  15 years old

St. Louis, Missouri

January 17, 2017

Toni was sitting in her parked car after coming home from a basketball game at Northwest Academy of Law High School.    She was fatally shot by two masked men — or boys — with assault rifles.  Toni was a sophomore at Northwest Academy, a magnet high school in the St. Louis Public School District that’s just a few blocks from the home on Thekla. She was on the school’s basketball, volleyball and soccer teams.

Toni lived with her 28-year-old brother who became her legal guardian after the death of her mother  in 2015.  Her father died several years earlier.

“Toni was a very popular child, with a very bright future, played three different sports, was a member of  civic organizations here at the school, so a lot of tears being shed this morning for the loss of a very bright student,” said Patrick Wallace, executive director of communications for St. Louis Public Schools.  Northwest principal Valerie Carter-Thomas said: “She was an absolute gem, a beautiful spirit destined to do good things in this world. It is difficult to help students process such a tragedy.”

 

Gunner Coleman 2 years old and Maycie Dove Harris 4 years old

Fairdealing, Missouri

January 26, 2017

Laura Coleman, 32, took the lives of the two children before killing herself.   Laura’s mother Ellen Martinez said it is hard to speak about what happened, because “no one understands.”

“You never know when that one little moment is going to be the last time you get to say, ‘I love you,’ or touch their hand or look into their eyes and see their future,” Ellen Martinez said. “Just take a moment today, because nothing else matters but them.”

Gunner loved Mickey Mouse and he affectionately called him by the nickname “Toodles”. He also liked watching Mickey on his mother’s cell phone. Gunner was an adorable little boy who enjoyed playing with his toy trucks and listening to the song, “Ten Little Monkeys”.  Maycie was a huge fan of the movie Frozen and her favorite character was Elsa. She loved to sing, “Let It Go”. Her big smile and bright blue eyes lit up every room she entered.

 

Mi’Kenzie Bostic   6 years old

Jennings, Missouri

February 13, 2017

M’Kenzie and three other children, ages 9, 4 and 3, were inside a house  with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend at the time of the shooting.  When police arrived at the home, they found a loaded 9mm handgun with an extended magazine sitting on a box in the entryway outside the room she was in.   The  boyfriend told police he and Jones had smoked narcotics and fell asleep in the front room of the house earlier in the evening, leaving the handgun unsecured on the floor and the children unsupervised.  The 9-year-old inside the home shot M’Kenzie while handling the gun after asking her to retrieve it.   Police Chief Dotson said, “Do I believe that a 9-year-old can make a rational decision in this case? No, I don’t. Do I believe it was an accident? I hope it was and I do believe it is.”

“It sends a message that we have to take gun ownership seriously that parents have to be parents and they have to be aware of what their children are doing,” said Dotson.

“I’ve got little sisters and brothers too and I can’t even picture how I would feel or how I would react on something like this,” said one neighbor.  Another neighbor said, “The parents in the house need to be more careful, not saying they shouldn’t have guns in the house, they just need to be more careful with the kids in the house.”

 

John Frost  16 years old

St. Louis, Missouri

February 20, 2017

Frost was shot outside his aunt’s house, where he stayed the night after returning from four months in Texas,  according to Doug Hollis a local pastor who coached him in a recreational basketball league in St. Louis.. Frost, whose parents are both serving prison terms, had left St. Louis to live with his grandfather, he said.

“He left to make a better life for himself,” said Hollis, who came to the shooting scene. “He came back for less than 24 hours and this is what happens.”

Frost was a respectful teenager who loved to play guard in basketball and attend church every Sunday with his grandmother, Hollis said.

 

Ayden Millsap   12 years old

Otterville, Missouri

March 4, 2017

The autopsy, conducted at the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office, confirmed the cause of death to be a single gunshot wound to the head.

Ayden was in seventh grade at Otterville School and played summer league baseball. His favorite hobby was gaming. He loved anything to do with outer space and dinosaurs. He also enjoyed hunting.

Ayden was an honorable young man, very loving and kind-spirited. He would never do harm to anyone or anything. He was very gentle and sympathetic.

 

Damien Holmes  12 years old

Benton Park neighborhood, St. Louis

March 14, 2017

Damien and his brother, 9, were left home alone when they found a gun and started playing with it. A round struck Damien in the head.   Damien was a sixth-grade student at Monroe Elementary School. Damien was an honor roll student and captain of the school’s step team, said Monroe Principal Felicia Miller. He was a bright, energetic student who dreamed of owning his own business.

“He was a leader in the school,” she said.

 

 

Antonio Womack 15 years old

St. Louis

March 24, 2017

Antonio was enrolled at Innovative Concept Academy, an alternative school for troubled teens in the St. Louis public schools system.Sharon Wright said the death of her grandson is one of the most difficult things her family ever experienced. Wright said her grandson enjoyed sports and spending time at church with family.  “He was funny. He loved to play basketball.He loved to hang out at church,” she said.  “I think prayer is what our city needs. Prayer. And lots of it.”

Antonio was fatally shot in the head and six other people, including a 7 year-old boy, were critically wounded in a shooting in north St. Louis, police said.  Several people were outside a building sitting or standing on a porch or on the lawn when the gunfire erupted.

 

Taylor Simpson  17 years old

University City

April 12, 2017

Taylor Simpson, had just left the Lieberman Learning Academy, an alternative high school where he was a junior, because it was an early dismissal day when two people started firing from a dark-colored sedan.  Simpson previously attended school at University City High School and Jackson Park Elementary School. He was also the grandson of former Superintendent D. Joylynn Pruitt who retired from the district in 2016.

Principal Chris Blumenhorst said the district and community were taking news of his death very hard. “Taylor always had a smile on his face. He was always well-mannered. He was a nice guy. He really was.”  He said the teen enjoyed movies and like many teenagers, was always on the prowl for food. “As skinny as he was, Taylor loved to eat. He’d always pester me for food,” Blumenhorst remembered.

 

Marcus Haislip III   3 years old

Kansas City

May 12, 2017

A volley of at least 10 gunshots shattered the car windows and pierced the  interior of the car being driven to an entertainment center in Shawnee.   What was to be a pleasant Friday afternoon ended up with Marcus dead and his father and uncle wounded.   Alicia Harris, Marcus’ grandmother, said she had a special bond with her oldest grandchild. Harris was in the delivery room when Marcus was born and cut the umbilical cord. Harris insisted that Marcus and her grandchildren call her “GG.”

Marcus wasn’t shy about telling everyone that he wanted to someday be a professional football player. Marcus got his first football when he was 1 year old, Harris said. “He had dreams already, things that he wanted to do,” she said. “It is amazing for a 3-year-old to have something like that.”  “It needs to stop. I just wish it would stop, there’s been so much,” Harris said the recent gun violence. “My family is heartbroken and all we want is justice.”

Ajante’ Johnson   16 years old

St. Louis

May 26, 2017

The bodies of Ajante and 19 year old Rayshaun Foster were found behind an abandoned house in the Walnut Park East neighborhood of St. Louis.   The backyard overlooks a park.  There are no details about the teen or the murder.

 

Franklin Noland   15 years old

Kansas City

May 26, 2017

Franklin’s body was found inside a car.   Authorities said he was driving a vehicle that had been taken in a carjacking in Kansas City, Kansas.  No more details are available.

 

Trenell Rogers   15 years old

St. Louis County

May 29, 2017

Trenell  turned 15 on May 5th.   “He didn’t get a chance to drive a car,” laments Sha McKinnies, aunt of the 15 year-old boy.  She says his relatively short life was a hard one. She lived in the apartment across the street from her nephew, and says his parents were rarely around. She had planned to legally adopt him. “He was actually staying with me, this boy would come in and do chores before anyone would ask him, he was so respectable, he got his grades up, he had dreams. And they were taken, because no one else cared,” McKinnies says.  “Yes he did dumb things, but he was only living the life that was given to him. He was a child.”

 

Anthony Wilson, Jr.  13 years old

St. Louis

June 1, 2017

A group of about eight teenagers all under the age of 16 were in a parking lot behind an apartment building handling a gun when it went off.   After the gun was fired the teens ran off.   Anthony was pronounced dead at the scene.

“He was a good kid and came from a good family. This was a senseless act of violence, and his family is hurting right now.”

 

Jalen Woods  17 years old

St. Louis

June 3, 2017

Jalen was in a car with that was refueling at a gas station on Union Blvd. when 2 masked men approached and fired into the car.   Jalen and another male was killed and 2, including an 18 year old, were critically wounded.  St. Louis police Capt. Mary Warnecke said, “These individuals were just beginning their life.”  And in asking for help in solving shootings she remarked, “I just want people to think, ‘What if this was one of my family members? One of my neighbors?’”

Edward Hatcher 17 years old

Riverview

June 24, 2017

Edward was shot by his friend, inside an apartment.   The friend, charged with manslaughter, admitted that he pointed the gun at Edwards’s head and pulled the trigger.  He  told officers that he “did not believe the firearm would discharge without the magazine inserted.”

 

Antonio Straughter 16 years old

St. Louis

June 25, 2017

Antonio was walking with others when a person exited a vehicle and shot at the group. A14-year-old male was taken to the hospital in critical, stable condition, a 16-year-old was taken to the hospital to be treated and released, and the fourth victim refused treatment for a graze wound to the back.  Antonio was pronounced dead at the scene.

Maurice Straughter buried his son whom he fondly called Tony. Straughter said his son was turning 17 in July and he had already picked out the perfect gift for his eldest of five kids. “I was working on a car that I just bought for him,” said Straughter.  Straughter said that he and his son were very close and spent a lot of time together, adding that Tony was caring and loving and protective of him.

 

Anthony Turner  10 years old

St. Louis

July 23, 2017

 

Anthony Turner was shot and killed by his 13-year-old brother who was handling a firearm. A neighbor said, “He probably thought it was cool and okay and didn’t expect for his life to be taken. I barely let my daughters come outside and if they do come outside, I have to be out here with them.”  The neighborhood where Anthony lived is reported to be one of the more dangerous in the city, and the scene of gun violence several times this year, at times involving children.  Anthony’s father offers a warning to gun owners: “No matter where you put it, you can put it anywhere, a child is going to be a child. You know? A child is going…lock it up,” said Turner, Sr.

The day before Anthony lost his life Women’s Voices was giving away gun locks at an event in the apartment complex where he lived.

Garrett Spaulding  10 years old

Miller

July 29, 2017

Garrett, 10 years old, died after being accidentally shot by his father.  Garrett was with his parents and another sibling Saturday night.  The sheriff reported that the Spaulding family raises chickens,  that a rooster was in some brush and the family was trying to get it back in its pen. He said the boy’s father was carrying a small-caliber rifle when he tripped and fell. The gun fired and hit Garrett in the head. He died about 24 hours later.

 

Robbie Kinney 7 years old;

William Kinney 5 years old

Marshfield

July 30, 2017

Robbie and William were shot to death by their father who then shot himself and set fire to his house.  Their mother, Liegh Ann Malone, had recently divorced the father and had asked for protection.

Malone wrote about her two sons for the program passed out at an Aug. 8 memorial service. Robbie, she wrote, “couldn’t wait to go back to school.” “He was super excited to learn and … play with his friends,” she wrote. “That loose tooth never would loosen up more, much to his disappointment. He loved his mom, most of all. His favorite place was snuggling in Momma’s bed late at night watching silly videos on her phone.” William, Malone wrote, was “wiggles and giggles and sweetness all around.” “He was a helper, always willing to learn about how to do … well, everything,” she wrote. “He liked taking his scooter outside and swimming with his brother. His birthday was next, and each morning he asked if it was today.”

Je’Don Edmond Jr.  2 years old

Kansas City

August 6, 2017

Je’Don, 2 years old, soon to turn 3, shot and killed himself with a gun that was reportedly on a shelf.   His parents and 1 year old sister were home at the time.  A neighbor said,  “A little young boy lost his life. We can’t do that. We can’t go and let a young kid take his own life. That’s wrong. That’s wrong.”  Another neighbor said that Je’Don was a happy little boy who rode his “jeep” in the courtyard, laughing and smiling.

 

Zackary DePung  17 years old

Festus, Missouri

August 12, 2017

 

Zackary and a friend, 17, found a gun in a city park. They believed it was unloaded and were playing with it — taking turns pointing it — outside of his house.  Zackary had turned to go back into the house when his friend shot him in the upper back, close to his neck.  Zackary had attended Festus schools since kindergarten but withdrew his junior year.   He was being home-schooled.  He was known as “Zac” and is survived by his parents, 3 sisters and 1 brother, a niece, 3 nephews, a girlfriend, and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

 

Terrence Dehart   10 years old

St. Louis County

August 24, 217

Terrence  was one of 4 people to die in what police call a “gruesome quadruple shooting.”  He was the adoptive son of 56-year-old Patricia Steward, another victim.   Also killed were Steward’s 20-year-old son, Joseph Corley,  along with 18-year-old Deandre Kelley Jr., a friend of Corley’s.  Terrence was a 5th grader at Forder Elementary School in the Mehlville School District.    Carmen Steward, aunt to Dehart and Corley said that Steward talked about her children all the time.   “My nephews – very fun, both of them.  Just very fun-loving.  Always laughed, always joked.”

 

James Scales 16 years old

St. Louis

September 5, 2017

James was shot multiple times while standing at his school bus stop early in the morning.  He was a junior at Beaumont High School in a special education transition program. Staff and students in the program with James are in shock over this loss. Candice Boyd, director of special education for STL Public Schools, says James was a hard working student and his goal was to get himself back to a regular high school setting. “He was working with staff members there to work himself out of that program.”  His friends says he was a great singer, a great dancer and a great friend. Police say that James was a witness in the Dec. 26  killing of Dwayne Clanton, 18.    A 19 year old is set to go to trial in that murder.

Gavin Lee Brown  9 years old

Cardwell

September 22,  2017

Gavin’s father had taken a rifle from a gun safe, removed the magazine, tried to eject a round and the gun went off.  The bullet grazed part of Gavin’s left arm and then entered the left side of his chest and side area. He was lying on a bed at the time. Gavin was a 3rd grade student at Southland Schools.

 

Gamesha Thomas  17 years old

Lee’s Summit

September 29, 2107

Police identify shooting victim of apparent suicide at Lee’s Sumitt North High as 17 year old Gamesha A. Thomas, a senior.  “My heart is breaking,” said Superintendent Dennis Carpenter.Gamesha Thomas, a senior, was found on the second floor of the school, and other students reported hearing a single gun shot, Lee’s Summit police said in a statement.

Kimberley Cornett, a 17-year-old senior, said she met Thomas in a math lab their freshmen year and they become close.  Cornett was heartbroken when she heard Thomas had died.“She was always really kind to me,” Cornett said. “She was kind to everybody. She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”  Thomas, Cornett said, would be remembered by her smile. Even though Thomas was well-known and liked around school, she eschewed a social media presence, Cornett said. “She was a social person,” Cornett said. “Very extroverted.”

Kameron Harvey  17 years old

Bellfontaine Neighbors

October 4, 2017

Kameron was killed in a drive-by shooting while he was on a bicycle.  He had been charged with manslaughter and was awaiting trial for accidental shooting of a toddler in 2015.  Kameron, who was 15-years-old at the time, was visiting the toddler’s  older brother and playing with a gun that had an attached laser sight. He watched the child chase the laser beam along the living room floor, authorities said, when he shot him in the abdomen.  The boy’s parents knew the teen was playing with the gun, but did not take the gun away from him. Police say the parents also did not check to see if the gun was loaded. Kameron was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was certified to be tried as an adult.

 

 

Alvin Sanders Jr.   17 years old

University City

October 7, 2017

Alvin was killed while he and a friend were playing with guns at his home in University City.  Alvin dreamed of playing college basketball once he graduated from University City High School.  “He’s gone too soon for him to fulfill that dream,” his father, Alvin Sanders Sr.  “I’m gonna miss my baby so much.  They took my baby from me.”  Alvin’s mother  Laconia Adams implored her son’s family and friends to pursue their dreams. “You still have a future,” she said. “Follow your dreams. Soar. Because it just takes one wrong decision, and things can change in a second.” “I can never see AJ again,” she said, referring to her son by his popular nickname. “My soul is stripped from me.”

Sanders said his son was following in his footsteps on the basketball court. Sanders, who played basketball at Vashon High School, said his son was hoping to attend the University of Memphis. The two would play each other on the court, and the younger Sanders was often the winner. “He grew taller than me, and he started to call me ‘little dude,’” Sanders said.

“Please, please don’t pick up no guns,” he said. “If you’re supposed to be a friend, be a friend. Just leave the guns alone.”

 

Kaydee Moerer  10 years old

Pierce City

November 13, 2017

Kaydee was shot to death by her mother who then killed herself.   Kaydee was a 3rd grade student at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Pierce City.  Judy Harper, principal, said Kaydee was well-loved by students and staffers alike.”She was a sweet little girl,” Harper said. “She was a cooperative, loving, kind student. She loved school.” Harper said Moerer attended a class comprised of about 17 students, and all were close, due to the small combined grade level.

Sheriff Delay said that they had been dispatched to the home multiple times since October 31, including well-being checks for 10-year-old Kaydee because she’d been missing from class.The Department of Family Services asked police to check on her on November 10, but police didn’t have enough cause to force their way into the home.Then, Monday, they received another well-being check after nobody had heard from anyone in the house all weekend. This time, officers noted that the cars were in the exact same spot they had been on Friday, and entered the home.

 

Rehyen Bost-McMurray  17 years old

St. Louis

November 23, 2017

Rehyen was fatally shot by police officers on Thanksgiving day.  He was driving a car that had been taken in a carjacking a day earlier.   When the officers saw the car strike a curb they got out of their vehicle.  Rehyen and 3 others jumped from the car and the officers said Rehyen pointed a gun at them. The officers opened fire striking him in the head and shoulder.   A 14 year old was shot in the chest.

Rehyen was a student at Bishop DuBourg High School..

 

Lavon Courtney, Jr.  17 years old

St. Louis

November 30, 2017

Lavon was shot and killed in south St Louis on Thursday night after police say he hit a pizza delivery driver with a gun then opened fire on him in an attempted robbery. During the robbery, Courtney hit the 41-year-old victim on the head with a gun. . As the driver ran back to his vehicle Courtney opened fire on him but missed. The delivery driver then returned fire using his own weapon, striking Courtney and killing him. Lavon’s body was found later, after the delivery man had returned to his workplace and alerted police of the incident.

Alexis Mitchell  16 years old

Kansas City

December 13, 2017

Classmates of Alexis at Raytown South High School say they can’t believe she is gone. “I just saw her Wednesday afternoon in our world history class. The next day when I came to class, she wasn’t in her seat, and it was kind of scary.”  At a vigil family members and friends were reluctant to speak about the shooting. Instead, they wanted to focus on Alexis, who was described as athletic, nice, and quiet with a fondness for the color red.  It was reported that some children had access to a weapon which was discharged and shot Alexis in the head.   “I want the community to know and understand that gun violence has to stop,” said Brianna Strong, Mitchell’s sister. “Especially with our young kids. Our young kids are dying every single day.”

Colby Stephenson  16 years old

Blue Springs

December 18, 2017

As friends try to come to terms with Colby’s death,  police are still trying to piece together what happened.    A neighbor where Colby was shot reported hearing about 20 gunshots, “a whole bunch at once, quick, and it was over.”  Colby’s friends from Valley View High School in Blue Springs say he was “just one of those goofy guys that everyone loved.” One friend said, “No, this can’t be true, like you are lying. Stop playing; he’s not dead. There’s no way. And then it end up being true.”

 

Ty Grafton  16 years old

Joplin

December 19, 2017

Ty, a sophomore at Joplin High School, died by suicide at his home. His parents, Eric and Ashley Grafton, say they want to raise awareness of suicide among teenagers and those who live and work with them, as well as to remove the stigma of reaching out for help before another tragedy occurs. Ty was a dancer and a runner, holding the record among his classmates for the fastest mile. He had recently discovered cooking thanks to a food and nutrition class he was taking at the high school, and he almost always had a book with him, his parents said. He loved being outdoors and taking his little brother for bike rides. Ty was a fantastic big brother, and loved to teach Thomas his dance moves, if they weren’t busy wrestling or playing hide and seek.

 

Lashon Sesson  15 years old

St. Louis

December 27, 2017

Lashon was pronounced dead at the hospital after being found with a fatal gunshot wound.  Lashon was known by his nickname, Polo, and friends said he was handsome, smart, caring and loving.  A statement made on a condolence page remarks on his age: “I did not know this young man but I work at the hospital and it always affects you when you can’t save someone, but when it’s this young it sticks with you.”