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Byers' Beat: Organizations surround families, neighborhoods where 3 children have died in 2 accidental shootings this week

We have compiled a list of resources that can help prevent the next gun violence tragedy in St. Louis.

Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

ST. LOUIS — Three children, all younger than 14 years old, have died while playing with guns within a week.

At 2 a.m. Friday, 10-year-old Paris Harvey and her 14-year-old cousin Kuaron Harvey were livestreaming on Instagram with a gun when family members said Paris accidentally fatally shot Kuaron.

The video shows Paris holding a handgun modified with a drum round in a bathroom at an Airbnb at the Cupples Station Loft Apartments in downtown St. Louis.

Suddenly, the gun fired. Kuaron collapsed out of view of the camera. 

Paris jumped back in shock, picked up the gun out of view of the camera. It fired, fatally striking Paris.

Police have described it as a murder-suicide, but it’s clear from the video and family accounts that the initial shooting was unintentional.

Then, at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, a 10-year-old boy found an AR-style shotgun on the bed of a relative’s home in the Walnut Park West neighborhood, picked it up and accidentally fatally shot his 12-year-old brother, LaFrance Johnson. 

Credit: Rockwood School District

The homeowner, who is related to the children, was arrested on suspicion of endangering the welfare of a child resulting in death. She has not yet been charged, so 5 On Your Side is not identifying her by name.

Police sources told me the 10-year-old told investigators he had played with the gun before, but it wasn’t loaded.

In both cases, the children were with family members with whom their parents thought they would be safe.

Blame, bitterness and grief are now gripping these families as they prepare to bury their young members — not to mention the public scorn and finger-pointing directed at the adults who should have done better in these situations.

As awful as these sentences are to type, say on the air and discuss, I have always been amazed by the incredible organizations and programs that kick into high gear, mobilizing behind-the-scenes to help the families affected by tragedies like this, as well as working to prevent them.

This column is devoted to them.

Lock It for Love

The city’s Lock It for Love gun lock program makes gun locks available for free at participating fire engine houses, library branches and St. Louis police stations.

In all, the police department has 4,500 locks to distribute via responding officers, community meetings and at area stations.

The department also created a video on how to use a gun lock you can view here:

The program also advises gun owners to keep their firearms locked and unloaded with ammunition stored away from the firearms in places that are not accessible to children or anyone else.

Mayor Tishaura Jones reiterated the importance of the program in a statement Tuesday.

“As a mom, I know how important it is that we take every step we can to keep our babies safe,” Jones wrote. “These recent shootings have devastated our entire city, and we need to take immediate action to protect our children. If you have a gun in the house, be a responsible gun owner; store firearms locked and unloaded and pick up a free gun lock to help you and your loved ones safe. My administration is exploring ways to continue connecting parents to these critical resources.”

The St. Louis Fire Department distributes free gun locks at 30 fire engine houses across the city, which are open 24 hours a day. For more information, call 314-533-3406.

St. Louis Public Library branches including Baden, Julia Davis, Divoll and Cabanne also give away gun locks.

The city runs the Lock It For Love program with Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice.

The group focuses on violence prevention, health care and other issues through education and advocacy and has distributed 8,000 gun locks to date through the program.

Crisis Nursery

The Crisis Nursery provides childcare and support to parents with children 12 years and younger experiencing stressful situations, domestic violence, lack of utilities and illness or death in the family.

5 On Your Side’s Justina Coronel and I have reported extensively on the work this organization has done through the years.

Workers from the nonprofit tend to canvas the areas where children are killed, and plan to do so in the Walnut Park West neighborhood Thursday where a 10-year-old accidentally shot and killed his 12-year-old brother after finding an AR-style shotgun on a bed in a relative’s home Tuesday.

They put fliers on doors in the area, which read:

“We heard about a tragic incident that involved a child in this neighborhood and we just wanted to extend our support. There is so much happening during this pandemic that is producing so much stress for so many. The staff at Crisis Nursery are here to provide support to parents with children ages birth to 12. If you are a parent feeling particularly vulnerable during this time, please know you are not alone.

"And feel encouraged to reach out to our 24-hour helpline at 314-768-3201. Sending strength, Crisis Nursery Staff."

The nursery has locations open 24 hours at 1928 Gravois Ave. and 11037 Breezy Point Lane.

Crime Victim Advocacy Center 

The Crime Victim Center is a nonprofit aimed at providing services to crime victims, including advocacy programs to help victims of domestic violence, homicide, nonfatal gun violence, along with families and juveniles in crisis. The organization also provides counseling services, legal assistance and special events, community outreach and educational training to raise awareness of victims’ issues and to educate the community.

For more information, visit the center at 539 North Grand Boulevard, Suite 400 during walk-in office hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, call 314-652-3623 or visit Crime Victim Center.

Better Family Life

Better Family Life is a nonprofit community development organization working to “stabilize inner-city neighborhoods.”

One aspect of its mission is a gun violence de-escalation program.

To learn more, call 314-381-8200 or visit Better Family Life.

Life Outside of Violence

Life Outside of Violence “helps those harmed by stabbing, gunshot or assault receive the treatment, support and resources they need to find alternatives to end the cycle of violence.”

To learn more, call 314-327-6697 or email: ProjectLOV@WUSTL.edu

Safety Net for Youth

The Urban League of St. Louis has an anti-crime program called Safety Net for Youth Initiative, which is a joint partnership with Saint Louis Public Schools to provide services to at-risk youth.

To learn more visit the Urban League of St. Louis.

Cure Violence

Cure Violence is an international organization that has recently launched in a handful of St. Louis neighborhoods.

Violence interrupters are trained to deescalate violent situations within their own communities.

To learn more, visit Cure Violence website.

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