Alarming number of children injured or killed by gunfire, on pace to set new record
More than 40 children have been treated at Children’s of Alabama for gun-related injuries over the last six months.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The age of innocence, ripped away from dozens of children in the Birmingham metro area in a matter of months.
“I wished it was me that got shot”, admitted Katrina Grady. “I never wanted my child to feel gunshots or hurt like that.”
Grady is in a club no mother wants to join.
“I try not to relive the moment, but I think about it so often”, she added. “That was horrible - something out of a movie, I just can’t believe it.”
Grady, who works in the health care field, was attempting to help what she thought was a stranded motorist when a truck drove by and peppered her car with gunfire. One of those shots struck her 8-year-old daughter Kaitlynn who was sitting in the back seat with her little sister. The bullet had two entrance and exit wounds. First going into the back of Kaitlyn’s head, exiting near her neck and back in her shoulder.
“And the doctor said, it’s just by the grace of God, if she moved another way she would be dead”, Grady said, fighting back tears.
While Kaitlynn made a full recovery, their lives will never be the same.
“I worry a lot, I don’t want my kids out of my sight”, Grady explained. “The area where she got shot isn’t too far from her granny’s house, and I have to take a detour now. One time I forgot, we were sitting at a stoplight and she was looking around to see if someone was trying to sneak up on her. That did something to me, I never wanted to her to be afraid or feel like her life is going to be taken.”
Those who fired the shots haven’t been arrested.
“I can’t stand it”, she sighed. “I feel like whoever did this to my baby, you did something to her mind - you did something to her heart. She’s moving forward, she’s trying to get past it, but I don’t like for her to think about that.”
Kaitlynn is one of more than 40 patients who’ve come through the emergency room this year at Children’s of Alabama, treated by Dr. Eric Jorge’s team.
“These firearm injuries are so traumatic that it’s natural to think that it’s a rare circumstance”, Jorge stated. “I hear families say, ‘I don’t know how this happened’ or ‘this is such a rare accident’ or the quote-unquote freak accident. But when we’re seeing it multiple times every week, from our end it’s not a rare accident.”
As the number of children continued to stream in with firearm injuries, Jorge made it his mission to stop it. Jorge studied every firearm case that came through the Hospital over the last 20 years, plus death records from the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office. The findings are staggering.
“We’ve had a significant increase in all cause firearm injuries and mortality”, Jorge reported. “So over the last twenty years we’ve seen firearm injuries and deaths almost triple in kids.”
According Jorge’s research, one in three children who are shot in Jefferson County don’t survive. One in four don’t even make it to the hospital. Of those who survive, 15% have lifelong injuries.
Intentional shootings where someone purposefully pulled the trigger account for half of the firearm cases that come through Children’s of Alabama. 35% of injuries and deaths stem from children mishandling guns.
“We looked back in those circumstances at who owned the gun. In that particular circumstance, the large majority were mothers and fathers who were the gun owners”, he remarked. “These guns are at home. It speaks to us that these are preventable injuries.”
Jorge warns, talking about safety isn’t enough to keep children from mishandling a gun.
“Research has shown that no matter how good our intentions are, no matter how much we try to teach out children, it’s not effective.”
Jorge pleads with parents to keep all firearms locked and stored away from children and separate from the ammunition.
“You can have a trigger lock, a cable lock, a biometric lock that uses your fingerprints, even a gun safe – anything to keep children from accessing it.”
Learn how to safety store firearms using a gun lock here:
As gun ownership skyrocketed during the pandemic, so have gun-related injuries and deaths. According to Jorge, 2021 is on pace to set a new local record. The number of cases involving children over the last six months is double compared to this time last year.
“I was not expecting to see our firearm injuries locally rising at such a fast rate, I was expecting us to more mirror the national trend”, he stated.
Data shows that over the last decade, rural Alabama residents own firearms at twice the rate of the national average. Nationally, one in every three houses with children has a firearm.
“But in rural Alabama, it’s twice that, and that was before this increase firearm ownership trend”, Jorge added. He anticipates more than sixty percent of homes with children in rural Alabama likely have at least one gun.
Jorge used the research to identify zip codes in Jefferson County with the highest number of children injured by gunfire. He’s working to supply pediatricians in those areas with gun locks to distribute to parents during wellness visits.
“Not one single person wants to see a kid die from firearm injury, this is not anything that we all disagree on, so really this is going to have to use community effort.
Grady believes that effort also involves holding those who hurt children accountable. Kaitlynn’s case is one of five that remains unsolved. $125,000 dollars total is on the table for tips that lead to an arrest, which totals $25,000 dollars per child.
“I’m stepping out”, Grady acknowledged. “I want the cowards to be captured. There’s too many solid leads, somebody knows something.”
If you have information on any of the shootings, call Crimestoppers at 205-254-7777. Callers can remain anonymous.
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