17 Memphis children killed in first 19 weeks of the year

17 Memphis children killed in first 19 weeks of the year
Published: May. 5, 2016 at 6:36 PM CDT|Updated: May. 6, 2016 at 10:52 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - New numbers show the unbelievable regularity of homicides in Memphis.

Memphis Police Department confirmed 17 children have been killed in the first 19 weeks of 2016. Four of those 17 children were unborn (meaning pregnant mothers were killed). In all of 2015, Memphis homicides claimed 21 children's lives.

Terrence Smith Jr., 16, is just the latest of the Memphis children killed. 

"Liked to joke, just being a 16-year-old," his mother, Antoinette Johnson, said.

Memphis has seen 78 homicides in the first 126 days of 2016. Fourteen of them were domestic violence related; eleven were gang related. MPD said 64 of them were committed using a gun.

"The numbers are outrageous, but for it to hit so close to home and never thinking it would hit that one person, it just took the cake for everyone at this point," Alexandria Fields, a friend of Johnson's, said.

Fields is looking to the police to help catch the person who is responsible for Smith's murder. So far, Memphis Police Department has been able to solve 58 of the 78 cases and 12 of the 17 juvenile homicides.

But others are just as worried about preventing the murders as they are about solving them when they happen. MPD Director Mike Rallings said it is going to take the help of the community to prevent more deaths.

"All those youth, they have parents, they have mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, a lot of those individuals know they carry guns,"  Rallings said.

He's not alone. Smiths' family agrees.

"People need to talk to your kid," Smith's grandmother said. "A lot of your kids walking around with guns and knives, you don't know what they gonna do."

Najjee Terry, like many others, is worried about youth violence in Memphis and said it's hard to understand how the city has reached the a level of widespread violence where teens being killed is commonplace.

"I think their parents aren't really raising them right, letting them kind of do what they want to do," Terry said. "When I was growing up, we had to be in the house before the street lights come on."

He said kids now have too much time on their hands, with nothing to do but find trouble.

"They don't have anything to do, like no gym or no playgrounds, or nothing around here," Terry said. "You know, no arcades, nothing like we had."

Lashundra Randle sees the same problem with a lot of kids at her son's high school. The question still remains as to what can be done about it.

"If we could just come together as a community, seriously," Randle said. "Because our children are in trouble. Summer's about to hit. They have absolutely nothing to do but get in trouble."

At this time in 2015, Memphis had seen 47 homicides, and the year ended with 161 homicides. Twenty-six were domestic violence related; twenty-four were gang related. MPD said 137 of them were committed using a gun.

Mayor Jim Strickland said he is concerned about the level of violence with teenagers.

"Obviously, I'm very disappointed in that and outraged," Strickland said. "I mean, I think we all should be outraged. When I was younger, children would settle disputes with fists. Now, it's guns."

Strickland stopped short of calling the situation a crisis, and said his administration is taking steps to stop the violence.

"We've got more police officers out on the streets than we did when I took over January 1," Strickland said. "This summer we have a plan to make our community centers a safehaven for people, for kids to go to and have a productive summer: a summer jobs program, a summer camp program."

He said it's also up to parents, religious leaders, and people in the community to teach kids how to solve disputes without using weapons.

Strickland continues to deliver the same message. He says all the killing is unacceptable and he's working on getting more police on the streets and more things for kids to do. But, so far, the city is progressing toward a record pace for homicides.

"Memphis Police Department cannot combat the problem alone," Interim Director Michael Rallings said. "We must, as a community, take a stand. These senseless killings must stop."

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