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The largest city in Texas and the surrounding area is witnessing a rise in gun violence, and children are increasingly paying the price.
In the early months of 2022, several children in and around Houston were either injured or killed in gun battles in which they were the unintended victims. Many of the shootings occurred during street rage episodes, drive-by shootings, and at least one accidental fire from a gun.
The violence was compounded by the shooting deaths of two 9-year-old girls in separate incidents within a week in February.
One of the girls, Arlene Alvarez, was fatally shot on Valentine’s Day when a man allegedly opened fire on the vehicle she was in with her family. Investigators said he mistakenly believed a suspect who had recently robbed him at a drive-through ATM was in the Alvarez family SUV.
HOUSTONIANS ON EDGE AFTER 3 ROAD RAGE SHOOTINGS OVER THE WEEKEND
Alvarez was the eldest of three children – she had two brothers, ages 7 and 6 months – and always enjoyed working with her parents, her mother Gwen Alvarez told Fox News Digital. She described her daughter as a caregiver who wanted to be a “little nail artist.”
The death left emotional scars on her and her children, she said.
“There’s always a certain time of the night that I’m scared to be outside because of what happened to us,” Alvarez said. “I feel like there’s been more and more shooting since Arlene died. Every night I have the feeling that there are always headlines about someone being shot or a riot on the road. It’s getting out of control.”
Many other child victims in the region were shot on or near apartment complexes while going about their normal routines, such as playing in the courtyard or walking home with a parent.
“These types of incidents appear to be really targeted and clustered in areas where we’ve generally seen a spike in homicides,” Beth Gilmore, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work at the University of Houston-Downtown, told Fox News .
One of the most recent shootings involving young victims occurred on March 17, when a 13-year-old boy was shot dead in a vehicle on Interstate 610. Another boy in the vehicle, also 13, was shot dead while a third was unharmed. said the police.
The boy killed was identified by his family as Joseph Jimenez, Fox affiliate KRIV-TV reported. They told the news outlet they believe the shooting was an incident of road rage, but authorities have not determined a motive, a police spokesman told Fox News.
Nationwide, children are more likely to die or be injured by gun violence. More than 1,500 children and youth were killed by guns in 2021, compared to 1,381 in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of gun violence.
As of Monday, 429 children and youth have died in gun-related crimes and other incidents this year, the nonprofit said.
Hours before Alvarez was shot, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner and Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the public for help in apprehending those responsible for the February 8 shooting of Ashanti Grant, also February 9.
Grant was in an SUV with her family when she was struck by a bullet on a Houston freeway in an apparent outburst of anger, police said. In this case, no arrests have been made and she remains hospitalized.
“No kid should be in a hospital because some stupid person decided to fire a gun,” a frustrated gymnast said during a news conference
Officials have not provided a clear reason why children are victims of gun violence.
On the same day Grant was shot, a 13-year-old was shot dead by another teenager. The child was taken to hospital in stable condition and a 16-year-old boy was arrested. A shooting in mid-February at a Houston apartment complex injured a 4-year-old boy who was shot in the leg while playing in a courtyard.
On February 4, Darius Dugas, 11, was shot dead in northeast Harris County while trying to get his jacket out of his mother’s car in a parking lot. A 19-year-old suspect, identified as Daveyonne Howard, was caught breaking into a car and began shooting at the vehicle’s owner, who was chasing him to recover his stolen property, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said .
One of the bullets hit Dugas, killing him, authorities said. At the time, Howard was out on bail for aggravated robbery, the sheriff’s office said.
In January, several children were injured by gunfire in several shootings. A 7-year-old boy was injured in the leg when he was wounded in an apartment complex in southwest Houston. On January 17, two brothers aged 1 and 6 and a man were shot dead but survived. Earlier this year, a 4-year-old girl, identified as George Floyd’s niece Arianna, was shot and killed when multiple bullets rushed into her Houston home, police said.
During the last three months of 2021, the city reported several child victims of gun violence, including a 7-year-old boy who was shot in the head, an 11-year-old girl who was shot multiple times by cluster bullets, and a separate drive-by shootings that injured a 1-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl.
A 10-year-old boy was killed in an accidental shooting on October 28 when he and his 11-year-old cousin went to his mother’s car to get something and found a gun inside, police said. The children played with the gun and the child was shot, authorities said.
Experts say because children are almost never the intended victim, shooters may open fire indiscriminately, leaving young victims caught in the crossfire.
“The shooter is reckless with the consequences and may not know that there is an innocent child on the premises or in a car and is only determined to fire on his target,” says Marc Levin, a Houston resident senior policy adviser to the Criminal Justice Council, Fox News said. “They don’t really take precautions if a child is in the way.”
The alleged shooter in the Alvarez case, Tony Earls, 41, has been charged with aggravated assault with aggravated assault. After that, he appeared at a press conference, where his wife commented on his actions.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get out alive. My husband did what he could. We wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for this man trying to rob us,” Deyonna Hines said in a statement on his behalf. “The lives of two families were forever changed by the poor decision of one man who still lives on the streets.”
With gun violence on the rise, city leaders and law enforcement officials have pledged to address the problem.
Earlier this year, Turner unveiled One Safe Houston, a $44 million crime reduction initiative. Efforts focus on four areas: violence reduction and crime prevention, crisis intervention, building partnerships with communities and youth work.
At the time, he tweeted that he acknowledged the impact of violent crime and said residents felt the city was “under siege.”
“I don’t remember Houston being like that when I was a kid,” said Gwen Alvarez.
The rise in violence has largely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts initially cited financial and psychological stress from the upheaval of daily life, a coming to terms with the history of racism and instances of police brutality as possible factors behind the rise in crime in the country the following years of relative peace.
In 2021, the city saw a 17% increase in homicides compared to 2020, according to police data.
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“There was just this big shift because of a lot of things,” Gilmore said of the rise in crime. “Something different definitely happened.”