Police reports about the final moments of Demetrius Cruz’s life include the kind of information that is at once difficult to fathom and yet somehow part of the ordinary but tragic tapestry of life in the U.S.
Cruz was riding in a car with his cousin on a Denver street Saturday when the driver of a white car started bumping, following and then chasing the teens' car. Cruz called his aunt. He was scared. Someone in the white car fired several shots, striking and killing Cruz. He was just 15 years old. That same night in Kansas City, Mo., a bullet sliced through the body of 4-year-old Aydan Perea while he was sitting in a car with his dad. Police say Perea was the innocent and unsuspecting victim of a gang drive by. Days later, on Tuesday, Dalton Williams, 16, was killed in Pierre, S.D. with a shotgun wielded by a friend after a dispute over a paintball game.
In each case, local newspapers and television stations captured the shocking and sad details. But no national media camped outside the boys' homes, schools or places of worship. No satellite trucks were driven in to beam the faces of these human sacrifices to America’s gun violence problem abroad. The president did not call to offer his condolences. Nor did he come to town to give a speech. And no professional athletes sent their jerseys or spoke publicly about the boys' deaths.
Beyond their families and friends, the deaths of Cruz, Perea and Williams and the hundreds of others like them across the country this year went largely unnoticed. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. a week ago left 20 children and six adults dead, and millions of Americans distraught and, in some cases, interested anew in a conversation about gun control.
Cruz, Perea and Williams are just another string of child shooting victims whose deaths somehow seem not uncommon because they happened one at a time. Together though, child shooting fatalities in the U.S. last year alone amounted to more than two dozen Sandy Hook massacres -- and the country has scarcely reacted.
In 2011, guns were used to murder 8,583 people living in the U.S., according to the most recent FBI data available. Among those murdered by guns, there were 565 young people under the age of 18, and 119 children ages 12 or younger -- the latter number nearly equivalent to six Newtown mass shootings. And these figures include only homicides.
“It’s staggering,” said Lindsay Nichols, an attorney with the California-based public interest law firm and gun-control advocacy organization the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “We are all shocked by the news in Newtown, Conn., but when you think about it, it is equally tragic and equally horrific every day so many families suffer this loss and that every year there are so many funerals of children that family members have to attend.“
Just Tuesday, Paul Sampleton Sr. found the body of his 14-year-old son, Paul Sampleton Jr., bound and shot dead in the family’s Grayson, Ga. home. Police suspect the boy may have interrupted a robbery. The Sampleton family will mark a very different kind of Christmas this year, then bury their son next Friday.
Then there are the stories of children killed in gun accidents and suicides. In 2010, the most recent year for which detailed Centers for Disease Control data is available, 129 people between the ages of 1 and 19 died in gun accidents. Another 749 took their own lives using a firearm, most of which were owned by a parent.
This year, in the days leading up to the mass shooting in Newtown, 12-year-old Demetri Phillips was shot and killed by a friend while playing with a gun in their shared home on Dec. 6. Two days later, Craig Allen Loughrey, 7, died in a gun store parking lot. His father’s gun went off inside the family truck and struck the boy, strapped into a booster seat, in the chest.
The problem isn’t exactly new. In 1997, the Centers for Disease Control found that in the U.S. the rate of death among children 15 and under due to gunshot wounds was nearly 12 times higher than those in 15 other developed countries. Child deaths caused by guns have dropped since that time, along with other types of crime.
But the number of children and teens killed in 2008 and 2009 in the U.S. alone could fill 229 classroom with 25 students, according to a report released by the Children’s Defense Fund this year. In 2009, of all the people 18 and under that died due to a firearm injury of any kind, 43 percent were black and 20 percent were Latino, making gun violence a disproportionately common event among teens of color, according to the Children's Defense Fund report.
On Friday, National Rifle Association vice president Wayne LaPierre proposed a program that would put armed guards and perhaps other adults with guns in every school, saying “good guys” with firearms were the surest way to protect the nation’s children.
Nichols, of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, described the NRA’s proposal as preposterous.
“I think it’s an absurd and dangerous idea,” Nichols said. “But as with so many of their proposals I think its real aim is to encourage the sale of more firearms. The biggest donors to the NRA are firearms manufacturers. Besides, arming and equipping all these people he wants to put in schools, having guns where kids see them daily is a tool to market weapons to the next generation.”