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Texas’ largest city and surrounding areas are seeing an increase in gun violence, and children are increasingly paying the price.
In the first few months of 2022, several children in and around Houston have been injured or killed in firearms incidents that they were the unwitting victims of. Many shootings have occurred during bouts of road rage, drive-by shootings, and at least one accidental shooting of a gun.
The violence was escalated by the shooting of two 9-year-old girls in separate incidents less than a week apart in February.
One of the girls, Arlene Alvarez, was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day when a man allegedly opened fire on the vehicle she was in with her family. Investigators said he mistakenly believed a suspect who robbed him from a drive-thru ATM moments earlier was inside the Alvarez family’s SUV.
HOUSTONIANS ON THE EDGE AFTER 3 ROAD RAGE SHOOTS OVER WEEKEND
Alvarez was the eldest of three children — she had two brothers, ages 7 and 6 months — and always enjoyed working with her parents, her mother Gwen Alvarez told Fox News Digital. She described her daughter as a carer who wanted to be a “little nail technician”.
The death left emotional scars on her and her children, she said.
“There’s always a certain point in the night where I’m scared to be outside because of what happened to us,” Alvarez said. “I feel like since Arlene’s passing there’s been more and more shootings. Every night I feel like there’s always a headline story about someone who got shot or has road rage. It’s getting out of hand.”
Many other child victims in the area were shot in or near apartment complexes as they went about their normal activities, such as playing in a yard or walking home with a parent.
“These types of incidents seem to be really targeted and clustered in areas where we’ve seen an increase in homicides overall,” said Beth Gilmore, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work at the University of Houston- Downtown. FoxNews.
One of the most recent shootings involving young victims occurred on March 17 when a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed while in a vehicle on Interstate 610. Another boy in the vehicle, also 13 years old, was shot down while a third was uninjured. said the police.
The boy who was killed was identified by his family as Joseph Jimenez, Fox affiliate KRIV-TV reported. They told the news outlet they believe the shooting was a road rage incident, but authorities have not determined a motive, a police spokesperson told Fox News.
Across the country, children are dying or being injured more often due to gun violence. In 2021, more than 1,500 children and teenagers were killed by firearms, compared to 1,381 in 2020, according to Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of gun violence.
As of Monday, 429 children and teens have died this year in gun-related crimes and other incidents, the nonprofit organization said.
Hours before Alvarez was shot and killed, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner and Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with the public to help catch those responsible for the shooting of Ashanti Grant on the 8 February, also 9 years old.
Grant was in an SUV with her family when she was hit by a bullet in an apparent road rage shooting on a Houston freeway, police said. No arrests have been made in this case and she remains hospitalized.
“No child should be in the hospital because a stupid person decided to shoot a gun,” a frustrated Turner said at a press conference.
Officials have not given a clear reason why children are falling prey to gun violence.
On the same day Grant was shot, a 13-year-old boy was shot by another teenager. The child was taken to hospital in stable condition and a 16-year-old boy was arrested. A shooting in mid-February at an apartment complex in Houston injured a 4-year-old boy who was shot in the leg while playing in a yard.
On February 4, 11-year-old Darius Dugas was shot and killed in northeast Harris County when he went to get his jacket from his mother’s car in a parking lot. A 19-year-old suspect identified as Daveyonne Howard was caught breaking into a car and began shooting at the owner of the vehicle, who was pursuing him in an attempt to recover his stolen property, the office said. Harris County Sheriff.
One of the bullets hit Dugas, killing him, authorities said. At the time, Howard was on bail for aggravated robbery, the sheriff’s office said.
In January, several children suffered gunshot wounds in separate shootings. A 7-year-old boy suffered a leg injury when he was injured at an apartment complex in southwest Houston. On January 17, two brothers, aged 1 and 6, and a man were shot but survived. Earlier this year, a 4-year-old girl identified as George Floyd’s niece, Arianna, was shot dead when multiple bullets flew through her Houston apartment, police said.
In the last three months of 2021, the city reported multiple child victims of gun violence, including a 7-year-old boy shot in the head, an 11-year-old girl shot multiple times by stray bullets, and separate cars. shootings that injured a 1-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl.
A 10-year-old boy was killed in an accidental shooting on October 28 when he and his 11-year-old cousin drove to his mother’s car to get something and found a gun inside, it said. the police. The children were playing with the gun and the child was shot, authorities said.
Experts say that because children are almost never the intended victim, shooters may open fire indiscriminately and young victims are caught in the crossfire.
“The shooter is reckless about the consequences and he may not know an innocent child is at the scene or in a car, and he’s just determined to shoot his target,” resident Marc Levin said. of Houston and chief political adviser. at the Criminal Justice Council, told Fox News. “They don’t really take precautions to find out if there’s a child in the way.”
The alleged shooter in the Alvarez case, Tony Earls, 41, has been charged with aggravated assault causing grievous bodily harm. After bHe appeared at a press conference where his wife commented on his actions.
“We didn’t know if we would make it out alive. My husband did what he could. If not for this man trying to rob us, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Deyonna Hines said in a statement on her behalf. “The lives of two families have been forever changed by the wrong decision of a man who is still on the street.”
Amid rising gun violence, city leaders and law enforcement officials have vowed to tackle the problem.
Earlier this year, Turner unveiled “One Safe Houston,” a $44 million crime reduction initiative. The effort focuses on four areas: violence reduction and crime prevention, crisis response, building community partnerships, and youth outreach.
At the time, he acknowledged the impact of violent crime in a tweet, saying residents felt the city was “under siege”.
“I don’t remember Houston being like this when I was a kid,” Gwen Alvarez said..
The rise in violence has largely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and experts initially cited financial and mental stress from the disruption of daily life, a toll on the history of racism and instances of police brutality as factors. potential for the spike in crime in subsequent years. relative peace.
In 2021, the city saw a 17% jump in homicides from 2020, according to police data.
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“There’s just been this big change as a result of a lot of things,” Gilmore said of the spike in crime. “Something different definitely happened.”