WASHINGTON – The man with the gun burst into the apartment and opened fire. The first victim was a young woman, dead at 21. The second victim was her 25-year-old roommate. But it was the third victim who would cause the most anguished screams when the bodies were discovered. Shot in the head, he was a 6-month-old boy.
The killing of Carlton Stringer Jr. was the first of nearly a hundred such killings of young children in 2012, a year that would include the deaths of 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Newtown killings horrified the country and provoked angry debates over access to the most lethal firearms. A year later, the anger and grief caused by the deaths continue to be felt. So, too, do the ripples from the other killings, of which there were at least 71, bringing the year’s total to at least 91, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The list, which focused on children 10 years of age and under who were victims of a deliberate shooting, was compiled in a search of news databases, federal crime statistics and websites that track violence against children.
Taken together, the killings reflect some of the country’s most unyielding problems. Mental illness, so central to the Newtown killings, also played a role in more than half of the other 71. Stray bullets from neighborhood gunbattles or drive-by shootings killed 22 children. Drugs, typically methamphetamine, were a factor in six others. Perhaps most striking was how many of the children knew their killers. Seventeen were shot by their mothers, according to police; another 17 by their fathers.
Like Newtown, every one of these killings has provoked a special kind of despair among the survivors — parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, police officers, teachers, pastors. And as in Newtown, all of these people have continued to mourn, regret, reflect on and agonize over the deaths as their first anniversaries have come and gone.
“What I experienced, I’ll never move on from it,” said one of the parents, Carlton Stringer Sr., who discovered the body of his 6-month-old son on the morning of Jan. 15, allegedly shot by a friend of one of the other victims. “I was crying, screaming and scared,” he said. “The police told me to go to counseling. But that won’t help. It is always going to play in my head. It is something I got to live with for the rest of my life.”
In all, four children were deliberately shot to death in January. In February came another six. One was Chaniya Wynn of Cleveland. The 1-year-old girl and her mother were killed in an abandoned garage by the mother’s ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself.
Chaniya’s aunt, Cherie Jackson, remembers arriving at the garage just as the police and coroner were leaving. She came with 10 cans of spray paint. “I wanted it to look like they were loved,” she said.
“RIP my baby sister. RIP my baby niece,” she spray-painted on the garage. “I love you so much.”
She stepped back. Soon others were grabbing spray-paint cans. First they covered the outside walls of the garage and then the inside. The windowless building stood for a year before the local neighborhood association flattened it. “Too many bad memories,” Jackson says of the building. “Now it is just a patch of dirt.”
In March, seven more children were shot to death, including, in Utah, a 5-year-old girl named Eliza Parker and her mother, Adria. The killer, police said, was the mother’s boyfriend, Landon Jorgensen. He was an outspoken defender of gun rights who often posted angry views on a website called ConcealedCarryForum.com. After he was identified as the killer, the site’s founder came to his defense.
“I’m more inclined to believe that landon walked in on something,” Nathan Collier wrote on the forum. “Perhaps the young girls father was there trying to take her . . . perhaps it was the girlfriend . . . perhaps landon got home and found she had done something awful.”
Collier said he wanted to see the evidence. He was sure that the small-town cops in Utah had bungled the case. “Something stinks here and despite my emotional roller coaster, I’m not ready to condemn,” he wrote.
Now he admits that he was wrong, that Jorgensen did shoot and kill the child. “I hope he’s rotting in hell,” Collier says. His opinion on guns, though, hasn’t changed. “It absolutely strengthens my position,” he says. “There are evil people among us, and the only way to combat an evil man is a good man equally armed.”
In April, three more children died, including Kamya Denise Robinson in Bakersfield, California. The 2-year-old was playing outside with her twin sister when a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting hit her in the chest. After the killing, Kamya’s mother moved away with her other children in hopes of a better life. “Bye Bakersfield,” Katie Wimbley wrote on her Facebook page. Another day, she wrote: “I’m happy I got my children out the ghetto the hood an all that thank u lord for the blessings.”
But then it was the one-year anniversary, and she was writing again: “THIS HAS BEEN THE WORSE YEAR OF MY LIFE MAMA MISS U LIKE CRAZY. I KEEP A SMILE ITS FAKE I TRY TO MAKE SURE THAT I STAY POSITIVE WITH MY LIFE BUT TO NO THAT U ARE NOT HERE WITH ME BREAKS ME DOWN DAY BY DAY. I NO THAT UR IN A BETTER PLACE. BUT I THINK OF U DAY AN NIGHT HOW DO I MOVE ON HOW DO I LIVE MY LIFE WITH THIS PAIN THAT I HAVE IN MY HEART FROM LOSING A CHILD THAT I CARRIED 4 9 MONTHS TOOK CARE OF UNTIL SHE WAS TAKEN FROM ME. I REMEMBER THIS DAY LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY.”
In May, eight more children were shot to death. One was Briana Allen, 5, who died when a battle broke out between warring gangs in her New Orleans neighborhood. She was celebrating at her cousin’s birthday party when a neighbor screamed, “They got guns!” A dozen blasts followed. Briana was hit in the stomach. Shrapnel struck her cousin, Ka’Nard Allen, 10, in his leg and neck.
“It don’t hurt much because you are scared,” Ka’Nard says of being shot. “You’re not thinking about the hurt. It hurts more to fall off your bike . . . but then it burns and you are scared something bad is going to happen. You just need to get to the hospital.”
He doesn’t like to talk about Briana.
“Ka’Nard had to cross over her on the porch to get in the house,” explains his mother, Tynia Allen. “She was laying there covered in blood.”
“It wasn’t no good,” he says.
In June, nine more children died, including Taylor and Jordan Dejerinett of Montgomery, Alabama. The 9-year-old twins were killed with their elderly baby sitter when a stranger stopped them and took their car. It took two days to find the twins’ bodies, abandoned on the side of a dirt road. A week passed before police arrested a 22-year-old suspect.
Taylor and Jordan’s uncles were sitting in the front row when Deandra Marquis Lee was brought into the courtroom. He was wearing handcuffs and leg irons, and, as one of the uncles remembered, had a smile on his face.
“That just set me off,” says Alceniour Moorer. “It was like something tore through my body.” Moorer charged the man, followed by his brothers. “You’re gonna die,” one of them screamed.
Deputies grabbed the three uncles and held them overnight in a jail cell to calm them down. In the morning they were released, but their anger continues. “I know God said you are supposed to forgive,” Moorer says of Lee, who was eventually charged with murder. “I can’t.”
In July, 10 more children were killed, including Jesse Ray Adams, a 3-year-old shot by his father while the father was on the phone with his estranged wife. The wife immediately called 911.
“He made my son tell me that he was going to die,” Christy Adams told the 911 operator.
At that moment, sheriff’s Deputy Mason Paramore was racing toward the father’s trailer in rural Pitt County, North Carolina. Paramore remembers a single light shining through one of the trailer’s windows and pressing his body to the trailer’s exterior so that he couldn’t be seen from inside.
Next, he remembers hearing a gunshot, followed by silence. The sheriff’s deputies charged into the trailer. Jesse and his father, C.J. Adams, lay on the bed with bullet wounds to the head, both barely alive. The boy was gasping for air, arching his back and whimpering. A helicopter from the hospital landed in the front yard.
“Take the baby first,” Paramore told the paramedics.
The mother was waiting nearby. He drove her to the hospital, steering with one hand while she clutched his other. She was still holding his hand as they ran into the hospital, where nurses told her that Jesse had died.
“Please let me rock him to sleep one last time,” the mother asked.
Paramore watched her cradle her son’s body. At the funeral for Jesse, the mother’s family thanked him. “Thank you for what?” Paramore thought. “I didn’t prevent him from dying. I didn’t save a life. What did I do?”
The mother gave Paramore a picture of Jesse, something to help him forget the images from the trailer. “I want you to remember what Jesse really looked like,” she said. He took the photo and hung it in his living room.
In August, nine children were killed, including Emma and Richard Rosovich Jr. Police said their mother shot them each three times after her boyfriend threatened to leave her.
To Jennifer Gardetto, who performed the autopsies for the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in Arizona, the children are ML12-1935 and ML12-1936. Gardetto doesn’t like to dwell on the lives of the people she autopsies. “You follow the usual routine so you are not thinking about it,” she says. “I try to be an unbiased observer and scientist; I try to put all the judgments and whatnot aside.”
ML12-1935 is Emma. “This is the unembalmed body of a female child appearing consistent with the reported age of four years, measuring approximately 42″ in length and weighing 36 pounds,” Gardetto wrote. She pressed down on Emma’s skin and catalogued her wounds. Two bullets struck the girl in the chest. There was a third “1/2 x 1/2 inch oval-shaped entrance wound” on her lower back.
“A pair of yellow metal hoop earrings and a pair of stud earrings with pink stone is in the ears,” Gardetto wrote. “Purple hair ties and a purple clip are in the hair, which is tied into a pony tail. . . . A small amount of red polish is on the toenail of the 1st digit of the right foot.”
ML12-1936 is Richard. “This is the unembalmed body of a male child appearing consistent with the reported age of 17 months,” she wrote. “The body is clad in a red short-sleeved shirt. A diaper and a pair of red-blue plaid shorts sit about the waist. A pair of white-pink socks and a pair of red-black shoes are on the feet.”
In September, there were five children killed, including Khalil Singleton. The 8-year-old was playing with a friend in his grandmother’s yard in Hilton Head, South Carolina, when a bullet from a Saturday afternoon gunfight killed him. Soon Jill McAden, the principal at Khalil’s elementary school, was confronted with the dilemma of how to break the news of the child’s death to the rest of the students.
Nine students lived on the same street as Khalil. She visited each of their houses that evening.
Another 19 students had been in Khalil’s second-grade class the prior year and knew him best. They were scattered across eight of her third-grade classes. She asked counselors to pay special attention to them.
As for the other 900 students in the school, McAden asked her teachers to tell their classes that Khalil had died, but not to say how it had happened. Leave that for the parents, she told them.
The students were full of questions. What would happen to Khalil’s desk? Who was going to return his library books? After the open-casket funeral, some students wondered whether he was really dead or just sleeping and why his favorite Geronimo Stilton chapter book was in his coffin.
McAden and her staff had tried to think through every detail of the aftermath, but there were simply too many. “When Khalil’s school bus rolled past the crime scene there was a lot of pointing at his house and the detectives,” McAden said. “I wish we had factored that in. I wish I had personally been on that bus.”
In October, three more children died, including Jorge Duran, a 3-year-old from Toledo who was shot by his father.
On the night of the killing, Paula Murray, a neighbor, heard yelling through her apartment’s wall. She listened as a woman screamed, “What are you doing? Oh my God!” Five blasts followed.
“Did you hear that?” Murray remembers asking her 27-year-old son.
“It sounded like gunshots,” he said.
It was a little after 9 p.m. and dark outside. Murray’s cellphone was dead. It wasn’t unusual to hear fighting next door. She tried to put it out of her mind.
On the other side of the wall, Jorge’s mother was dying. The toddler’s father grabbed him and ran to a nearby townhouse, where he fired more shots, including one that killed the boy. Police then killed the father.
Months later, Murray says, she received a letter from the boy’s grandmother, blaming her for the deaths of her daughter and grandson. She read it over and over. She started seeing a psychiatrist, who took the letter from her and destroyed it. “I wish to God I wasn’t home that night,” Murray says. “I want to apologize. I want to say that I could have done better even though I didn’t kill her little boy. I didn’t pull the trigger.”
She passes the cemetery where Jorge is buried almost every day on her way around town. Recently she drove through it. “I was tempted to ask, where is the little boy’s plot?” she says. “I want to pay my respects, but I feel too guilty.”
In November, five children were killed, including 10-year-old Julia Schuster and her 6-year-old brother Luke in remote New Town, North Dakota. They died along with their grandmother and 13-year-old brother when a man kicked in the door of their clapboard home and opened fire. The 21-year-old shooter had a history of getting into trouble and was high on methamphetamine.
Word of the killings spread quickly through the tiny town. Almost everyone knew the Schusters as well as the family of Kalcie Eagle, the shooter, who killed himself later that day. “There was a lot of under-the-table talk,” said Marilyn Levine, a pastor who lived in the parsonage next to the home where the shootings occurred.
Some people blamed the Eagle family for allowing their troubled son such easy access to a gun. Others believed that drugs had precipitated the tragedy. Maybe violent video games had played a role, some said. Maybe the killer was simply evil.
The question everyone had: How does someone kill a child?
Levine, suddenly in charge of explaining the unexplainable, tried to preach forgiveness.
“This was a tragedy for both families,” she said. “Both families are grieving.”
The question, though, continues to resonate in New Town, North Dakota, and also in Newtown, Connecticut, where, on Dec. 14, 20 children were killed.
Those weren’t the only deaths of December. Before Newtown, an 8-year-old was murdered by her father. And after Newtown came one more — a 4-year-old killed in the crossfire of a gang shooting — bringing the total of dead children to at least 91 as 2012 came to an end.