Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Violence on US youth approaching a plague, data shows


A series of horrific school shootings in the US have caused many to wonder just how safe the nation's children are. The truth is, young people are killed at the hands of others at an alarming rate, greater than any other Western nation.

Every day in 2003, an average of about 15 youth, ages 10 to 24, were victims of intentional and accidental killings in the US, according to the most recent statistics available from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Very few of them died in school shootings. They are most likely to be shot, but also the victims of stabbings, beatings and other abuse.

They are young people such as Starkesia Reed, a high school student who was struck and killed in March by a bullet from an AK-47 as she stood by a window in her home in Chicago's impoverished Englewood neighborhood. About a week later, in the same neighborhood, 10-year-old Siretha White was killed much the same way as she attended a surprise birthday party at her aunt's home.

"She had dreams and she didn't get to finish doing her dreams," Siretha's mother, Siretha Woods, said at the time.

Or Alex Anthony. Last month, the 13-year-old -- shot in the head by a stray bullet a block from his Indianapolis, Indiana, home -- quietly slipped away after his family made the agonizing decision to have him taken off life support.

"This is something we will never get over," said Hattie Hunter-Anthony, one of Alex's many aunts in his large, extended family.

There have been several high-profile school shootings in the US within a matter of days. On Sept. 27, a gunman took several girls in a Colorado school hostage, sexually assaulted them and then killed a 16-year-old girl before killing himself. On Sept. 29 in Wisconsin, a 15-year-old student shot his principal.

And then on Oct. 2, a gunman attacked an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, killing six girls and then himself. Five other students were wounded. The Amish community razed the schoolhouse and will build a new one.

While experts are pleased that the White House has taken action to explore the serious issue of school shootings, many say they wish similar efforts were being made to address these other killings.

"I think we've come to expect violence in cities, violence among urban youth, violence among minority youth," said Linda Teplin, a psychiatry professor and director of the psycho-legal studies program at Northwestern University's medical school. "It no longer shocks us. It's the unexpected that shocks us."

In a study published last year in the medical journal Pediatrics, Teplin and her co-authors reported that school shootings resulted in 52 deaths between 1990 and 2000. By comparison, they noted that in New York City alone during the same time period, homicides accounted for the deaths of 840 inner city youths, ages 14 to 17.

Rural areas are not without their share of killings.

They include the case of 4-year-old Sean Paddock, who died in March in Johnston County, North Carolina, after his adopted mother allegedly suffocated him by wrapping him in blankets to punish him.

Sheriff Steve Bizzell still gets calls from residents expressing concern about the case. Among other things, he says the mother -- who is in jail awaiting trial -- beat her children with plumbing pipe to discipline them.

Other instances of violence against youth in the county have received less attention.

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