Indianapolis schools struggle with five-year city high in youth homicides

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This article was co-published by Chalkbeat Indiana and Axios Indianapolis as part of a reporting partnership about youth gun violence in Indianapolis.

The day before Mother’s Day this year was hot. Hotter than it should’ve been in mid-May, reaching into the 80s. Mourners vigorously waved paper fans while they waited in line to walk past Jamar Ward’s white casket.

He should’ve turned 19 that day.

Instead, his mother leaned over his dead body and wailed to God.

At the time of his death in April, Ward—who graduated early from Arsenal Technical High School—was the 15th teenager to be killed by gun violence in what has become a record year for homicides of young people in Indianapolis. Within the next two weeks, four more teenagers would die from a shooting.

While total homicides in Indianapolis are down this year by over 20% from the record set in 2021, the number of homicides in the 19 and under age group has reached its highest mark since 2018. The majority of such deaths involve gun violence: The number of youth in this age group killed by gun violence has more than doubled from 20 in 2018 to 44 as of Dec. 8 of this year, according to an analysis of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department records and news articles by Axios Indianapolis and Chalkbeat Indiana. (The analysis only extends to 2018). This year all of the victims have been teenagers.

Homicides among minors, children under age 18, are up more than 25% from last year’s 19 and more than triple the pre-pandemic levels in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of teenagers shot and killed since Jan. 1 is at 44, higher than 34 last year and 36 in 2021—the city’s most violent year in overall homicides.

The increase has left students, parents, and education officials grappling with how to stop killings that have impacted school districts and charter schools throughout Marion County. Community members who work closely with youth and gun violence attribute the causes to a variety of factors, including social media and the easy access that youth have to guns.

Two days after Ward died, 19-year-old Markes Day was found shot to death in an alley–less than a month before he would have graduated from George Washington High School. Roughly a week later, Jhavon Fisher, 17, and Nicholas Powell, 18, were killed. Three days after that, Austin Tyler Bunn, 19, was killed in what police believed to be an accidental shooting.

“We are at war,” IPS school board Commissioner Angelia Moore said at a board meeting Nov. 16—one day after 13-year-old Dayon Darnell Lyles was shot and killed near the Meadows neighborhood on the city’s east side.

That same night, 14-year-old Arsenal Tech High School student Kaleiah Veloise-Mae Dean would lose her life.

Police have called on the community to keep guns out of the hands of children. Last month, IMPD Commander Matt Thomas stood outside just yards away from KIPP Legacy High School, where 15-year-old Devin Gilbert III was shot and killed in an adjacent parking lot.

“We have to do better,” Thomas said. “And we owe it to our youth to lead the way in doing that.”

The deaths have also left families like Kaleiah’s dealing with the loss of multiple family members.

Derico Young lost his 21-year-old daughter Derisha Young in 2021 to gun violence. Now, the death of his stepdaughter, Kaleiah, has left him once again facing the loss of a young life.

“Why?” Young asked. “Why does someone else have to bury another kid?”

The shootings have also left some young people injured.

Andrew Holmes, an activist on gun violence prevention in Chicago, was at the scene of a mass shooting there when he got the call that his grandson Terrell was shot at a party in Indianapolis. Terrell’s mother, Holmes’ daughter, was shot and killed in Indianapolis years earlier.

Terrell, a football player at Lawrence North High School, was one of nine injured in a shooting at an Oct. 29 party on the northeast side that left 16-year-old Kalin Washington dead. Six of those injured were teenagers.

Now, Holmes said, his grandson is recovering from his shooting injury with rehabilitation and therapy as the family prays he is able to play football again.

“That’s a passion that his mother had for him,” Holmes said. “I told him just keep pushing, you shall play football again. Your mother wants you to play football.”

Arika Herron is a reporter for Axios Indianapolis. You can reach her at Arika.Herron@axios.com.

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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