At least 86 teenagers have been killed by bullets in America in the 50 days since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Taken together, the stories of the dead paint a tragic portrait of gun violence that threatens teenagers across the United States. Data detailing accidental discharges, domestic violence, robberies gone awry and a number of other events, appears random in its geography and the cultural class affected, but chillingly predictable in the volume year after year.
The deceased represent the every day victims of the gun epidemic. They are the ones that many of the Parkland kids are trying to draw America’s attention to. And, you may not have heard of any of them.
“There will be no national headlines, but we lost another teenager here last night,” South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted on February 18, hours after the shooting death of Daekwon Tobar, a 17-year-old, who was shot on the way home from the store with his grandmother, and who friends and family later described as a quiet boy just learning “how to be able to look a person in the eye. How to fill out a resume and a cover letter.”
Just hours before Daekwon’s death, the Parkland students had stood in front of a federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to rally against gun violence. One student, Emma Gonzalez, had tearfully declared “BS” on the politicians who she said say nothing can be done to stop the violence that had just visited her school.
“Locally we’re doing everything we can think of to stop gun violence. What will state and national leaders do to help?” Mr Buttigieg’s tweet continued.
The 86 number — determined through an analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, which aggregates local media reports on gun violence and therefore may under-represent the true number of deaths, by The Independent — shows that on average one-and-a-half teenagers were killed each day from the morning of February 14 through April 5, the 50 day mark. Just 14 days saw no reported teenager gun deaths, while 24 days saw two or more deaths, and 12 days saw one death.
Their names, and their stories, are too numerous to individually describe here, but they share a common theme. In many cases, the deaths came from family members, or fellow teenagers who happened to find a gun either illegally or unsecured in their homes.
Most cases appear to involve a handgun — not a semi-automatic rifle like the one used in Parkland, and which receives a lion’s share of media coverage — a fact consistent with general gun death statistics which indicate 65 per cent of gun deaths in the United States involve a hand gun, according to the FBI.
“The fact that children and teens continue to die by gun fire at the rates that they do is totally unacceptable, and underscores the need for action to stop these deaths,” Adam Skaggs, the chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Independent.
“I think the conversation needs to recognise that, as horrific as they are, the types of crimes like the shooting in Parkland are not the real face of gun violence in this country,” Mr Skaggs continued. “The vast majority of people who die by gun fire are not killed in mass shootings, but they’re killed in everyday gun violence, they’re killed in domestic violence incidents, and they’re killed by suicide.”
Since the Parkland shooting, a flurry of laws have been passed at the state level across the United States to address the issue, while the federal government has largely refrained from legislating.
While President Donald Trump invited student survivors of that massacre to the White House for a listening session, and later appeared interested in pushing Congress to consider a host of issues including raising the age limit to buy guns, he later bowed to pressures from America’s gun lobby — including the National Rifle Association (NRA) — and settled on instructing his Justice Department to find a way to ban bump stocks that allow users to fire semi-automatic weapons at near-automatic rates.
The majority of changes to gun laws in the US have been at the state and local level. In Florida — a state known for lax gun restrictions — politicians defied the NRA to pass rare gun control and school safety bill in the state, allocating $400 million for school security. In Vermont, a state with virtually no gun laws, politicians pushed through a bill to raise the age to buy guns, implement mandatory background checks on private gun sales, and ban large capacity magazines. New York, which is already known for having some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, passed a law that would allow law enforcement to take guns from people convicted of domestic violence.
But, as those measures and others bounced around statehouses across the country, teenagers kept dying.
The deaths in the past 50 days include 15-year-old Kevin Robinson, who was shot in St Louis, Missouri, on February 22, the same day CNN held a town hall in Southern Florida in which Florida Senator Marco Rubio refused to say he would stop taking money from the NRA when challenged by Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky to do so. Within two hours of that programme ending, police found Kevin shot to death in his home alongside his mother and mother’s boyfriend. A 4-year-old was found pretending to be asleep in a nearby room.
They include the death of 17-year-old Carlos Morales, who was shot outside an Orlando home after getting into heated argument with a fellow teen on March 24; and the death of 19-year-old Billy Ray Robles, who was shot by a younger boy following an altercation on a party bus that same day. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators had taken to the streets that day in communities across the country for the March for Our Lives rally that was organised in response to the Parkland violence.
A 14-year-old Mississippi girl named Dijonae White was shot by her 9-year-old brother with their mother’s live-in boyfriend’s unsecured gun when she would not give up a video game controller when he asked. A 13-year-old and 17-year-old shot themselves in the head in their school bathrooms in Ohio and Missouri, respectively. Kaiden Vague, a boy with high functioning autism who frequented his local gun range in Santa Barbara, California shot himself at that same gun range on his 16th birthday.
The list goes on: A 16-year-old prospective high school football player was killed in Tennessee; a 16-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy shot themselves in the woods together in Ohio; a 15-year-old killed himself in a suburb of Phoenix while playing Russian Roulette with a stolen revolver.
A little over a week ago, 17-year-old Indiana boy William Garrett Sands arrived at a party in a friend’s basement. Nathan Derickson, 19, the host of the party, was house sitting for his parents who were out of town for the night, and the group thought it would be a fun time to get together without parents around.
Mr Derickson had grabbed a pistol from his mother’s nightstand in preparation for the event, saying later — as is often the argument for an individual owning a rifle is — that he thought it would help him in case an intruder came by.
But there was no intruder — just friends in a basement. After several people handled the gun, Mr Derickson picked it up and pointed it at William. He later said he thought it was unloaded when he pulled the trigger.
Just like that, William became another teenager to be killed by a gun since Valentine’s Day in America.