Teen shootings in Aurora renew focus on gun violence

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Aurora police officials say three people were injured outside of Hinkley High School in Aurora Nov. 19. It’s the second shooting in close proximity to a high school in five days. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA |  It was lunchtime on a mild day in sprawling Aurora when a truck full of teens pulled into a high school parking lot where students were gathered, and gunfire rang out.

Three were wounded as others ran in fear.

One of the boys charged in the Nov. 19 shooting later told investigators he brought his armed friends to an expected gang fight because “it’s the way it is in this town,” court documents said.

The shooting was one of several involving teenagers within a two-week span that have placed renewed attention on a long-running problem of gun violence and gangs in the state’s third largest city, where the police department has been under scrutiny for its treatment of Black residents. Activists and officials say easy access to guns is contributing to the problem, which has also been exacerbated by the pandemic and its effect particularly on the mental health of minority teens in the city.

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Across the United States, shootings involving children and teenagers have increased in recent years, including 2021. A March report from the Children’s Defense Fund found child and teen shooting deaths reached a 19-year high in 2017 and have remained elevated. Black children and teenagers were four times more likely than whites to be fatally shot.

Aurora has seen an increase in Black and Latino families and immigrants from around the world as Denver has grown more expensive in recent years. These families of color have been hit harder health-wise but also economically by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to mental health problems, said Maisha Fields, an activist who works with youth and families in the city of about 379,000.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson addresses the press. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson talks with school officials. Aurora police officials say three people were injured outside of Hinkley High School in Aurora Nov. 19. It’s the second shooting in close proximity to a high school in five days. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

The Nov. 19 shooting started with an argument in the parking lot at Hinkley High School after the truckload of boys arrived. After the initial shots were fired, the pickup drove away, with at least two teens pointing guns from the windows, sending students running in fear, according to police.

Four 16-year-olds were later charged, including the boy who spoke to investigators about the gang fight.

Fields, who is also vice president for organizing for the Brady gun control advocacy group, said the teen’s attitude about the need to be armed gave her chills. It reminded her of the callousness that led to her brother, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, being shot and killed in Aurora in 2005 as he was preparing to testify against a man charged in the fatal shooting of his friend at a concert.

Jason McBride, a violence prevention expert who works with teens for the Struggle of Love Foundation in Denver and Aurora, and Aurora City Councilmember Angela Lawson both said teens have showed them Snapchat posts, where messages disappear, offering guns for sale.

McBride thinks gangs are to blame for much of the problem — not necessarily the organized Crips and Bloods as in previous years, but smaller, loosely affiliated groups of teens who may not be associated with a particular neighborhood but who get into disputes on social media.

Some also create their own untraceable guns using a 3-D printer or by buying and assembling parts purchased online, McBride said.

Generational trauma caused by seeing relatives killed in shootings has also normalized them, he said. And being kept away from school, an escape from problems at home, has strained the mental health of some teens.

McBride said a 16-year-old recently told him he would use bullets if he got into a fight so he would not have to worry about messing up his clothes.

“That’s the head space our kids are in,” he said.

Students are seen fleeing from the suspects vehicle and shots are fired from the moving truck, Nov. 19, 2021 in the parking lot of Hinkley High School.

While shootings involving teens are not a new problem in Aurora, ones on or near school grounds are unusual, said Kyla Armstrong-Romero, who was president of the city’s school board until stepping down last week after newly elected members took office. She said she hopes the attention given to the shootings near schools will ignite more interest in the work that needs to be done to prevent teen gun violence, which she said has often been underfunded.

Lawson agrees that social media fights and the effect of students being required to stay home last year have contributed to the violence. But she thinks gangs are only part of the reason for shootings.

The city’s original anti-gang program ended after its funding — fines from drivers caught on camera going through red lights — disappeared when voters eliminated the cameras in 2018. In April, the city started a new youth violence prevention program funded by an increase in the marijuana sales tax. However, only three of the planned six positions, including one outreach worker, have been filled, Lawson said.

Law enforcement officers survey the scene of a drive-by shooting that left six teenagers injured in a park, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Aurora, Colo. (Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado via AP)

With a $1.1 million budget, the city is in the process of recruiting for the remaining positions, city spokesperson Ryan Luby said. Some of the funding will also support community-led efforts, he said.

Teens in the city also need a dedicated place they can go, possibly one of the city’s recreation centers, where they can participate in organized activities, get access to services including mental health counseling and just talk to others, Lawson said.

Stemming the violence though will also require help from parents, police and the wider community, she said.

“It’s all hands on deck,” Lawson said.

 

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Justathought
Justathought
6 months ago

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the problem. Too many gun owners are not securing their firearms. The 300K t0 500K stolen EACH year end up in the hands of criminals. Those who decry gun violence while being irresponsible with their own weapons are hypocrites of the first order. https://behindthebadge.com/a-new-survey-confirms-the-majority-of-guns-being-used-by-criminals-are-obtained-from-peoples-homes-and-cars/

FeelingsAreNotFacts
FeelingsAreNotFacts
6 months ago
Reply to  Justathought

While securing firearms should be expected of responsible gun owners, this smacks of victim-blaming. Perhaps, instead, we dramatically increase the punishment for the mere possession of a stolen gun.

Justathought
Justathought
6 months ago

Dramatic punishment for possessing a stolen gun? By then it’s too late. That weapon has probably caused damage and heartache. Gun owners MUST embrace their safe storage responsibility.

We also have the problem of owners failing to report their guns stolen due to embarrassment or fear of criminal charges. Either way this is where kids are getting guns.

Dylan
Dylan
6 months ago
Reply to  Justathought

Quite possibly the dumbest statement ever! These punks are getting guns from who knows where and to blame gun owners is just pathetic! A gun is no good to me if it’s locked in a safe. Funny you worry about me little man I’ll take care of myself.

Justathought
Justathought
6 months ago
Reply to  Dylan

I lock up the guns I’m not using. When I’m away from home they are locked in a gun safe. I use the gun safe installed in my vehicle if I’m not actively carrying. What’s dumb is you can’t think beyond the weapon in your holster. Guns are being stolen from irresponsible gun owners, perhaps like you, who are not securing their weapons. This amounts to 300-500 thousand PER year from autos and homes.

Don Black
Don Black
6 months ago

Rhonda Fields and Lawson are a part of the problem. Their efforts to protect a few black criminals with vague laws and guidelines for the police and the general liberal attitude toward crime are creating a hazardous environment for everyone. This is especially true for adolescents of color. To protect a few criminals who fight the police we have created a danger to everyone, especially the black community. Look at the schizophrenic attitude of the public and the media. The public doesn’t want those evil cops in the schools and doesn’t want the kids contacted by the police because “they are just kids”. “Just kids” commit about 60% of the crime. Some of them are murderous thugs who don’t care who they kill. The public doesn’t want people stopped for minor violations or suspicious persons because something bad might happen when the criminal runs or fights. All those minor stops find the people with guns and the people who are wanted. By the way, if you want to keep the police from making minor stops, then accept that they are not going to enforce all those laws that you like. Speeding in your neighborhood, someone looking in your car on your driveway, loud music, homeless guy aggressively asking you for money, or almost any annoying thing you can think of is no longer a police concern. Chief Wilson said that she won’t be part of the pipeline to prison. At the same time, she is calling for harsh punishment for the shooters outside the schools. Are they “just kids” or not? Make up your mind. We know we need transparency from the police and government. At the same time, quit hamstringing the police with social justice requirements based upon easily disproven lies. The arrest statistics cannot be proportionate until black criminals quit committing crime at a disproportionate level. The politicians are asking you if you are going to believe them or your lying eyes. Look at the looting. look at the gang shootings. They are almost all black. How do the police make their arrests proportionate? I guess they have to aggressively hunt white people to arrest to make the statistics proportionate. Get real, people. Make up your minds. Start holding criminals accountable for their actions.

Nilta
Nilta
6 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

When is the Sentinel going to block posts from this blatant racist?

DICK MOORE
6 months ago

I can’t figure out when you stopped thinking, Angela. To believe that throwing a couple million dollars to research why our high schoolers are getting guns to kill other high schoolers is beyond naive.

The only way to stem the violence is what you say is parents, police and the community, (in Ward I, II and III).

You and the rest of Council should focus on the thoughts of Don Black. In this area he, to me, is the complete sound of reason to correct this problem and bring back safety to all of Aurora. It isn’t to study it. It has been already studied completely since the 1980’s.

Dean
6 months ago

“Teen shootings in Aurora renew focus on gun violence”

Don’t bother until there is something that resembles real, and some new information.
This article reads like a plea for funding on some new version of “Renew Focus on gun violence”. This is nothing than more of the same old worn-out shop towel list of reasons, most of us common folk already know. But not one of all these experts can find it, certainly, it’s always easier to blame the cops.

BlueBird
6 months ago

Rather than race, let’s look at gun violence through different lenses, say BEHAVIORS. What is the pattern of offenders compared to non-offenders? How do those groups compare with respect ot unlawful possession of a gun, skipping school, drug or alcohol use, creative pursuits, church connections, extracurricular school activity? Then look at the behaviors of the parents of these offending young people. See any patterns emerge?

GeneD
GeneD
6 months ago

Don Black (ironic last name based on his comments) addresses only one side of the equation. Except for intermittently carrying out raids and seizing guns, the police, by the way they are set up, are reactive. That’s why they are called first Responders, rather than first Preventers.

Equal attention must be given to the front end of the equation: the proliferation of guns. What works? Universal background checks with meaningful waiting periods. Removal of product immunity for firearm manufacturers and sellers. Outlawing combat weapons for private ownership. Tracing guns used in crimes to the sellers and prosecuting those who dealt them illegally. Doing away with mail order gun purchases. Eliminating ‘straw man’ purchases.

That is a partial list. Ceasefire Colorado and Brady are two organizations that have solutions waiting to be implemented. They should be tapped for their expertise, not another politically driven commission or task force. That kind of body should be looking at root causes: poverty, mental illness, lack of community, inadequate parenting, substandard schools. In other words, societal issues that lead to the misuse of readily available guns. That means treating our ongoing epidemic of gun violence as what it is: a public health issue.