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Year in Review

Kids Who Pick Out Their Own Caskets, and Other Voices from the Front Lines of Gun Violence

Mass shootings pushed the issue to the fore, but these excerpts from our City Limits series tell the stories of the everyday gunfire victims who still go ignored.

In the Patch neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, a funeral director overhears teenagers picking out their caskets in his parlor. At crime scenes in New Orleans, Louisiana, a local reporter is disturbed by the number of small children he sees playing just outside of the yellow tape. After losing his own son, a pastor in Hartford, Connecticut, hears the same words he had often used to comfort families of gunshot victims, and now finds those condolences insufficient. 

This year, as part of our City Limits series, The Trace collected accounts of everyday gun violence from residents of 14 cities around the country, from Portland, Oregon, to Miami, Florida. The people we heard from were left reeling by random gunfire, domestic violence disputes, and retaliatory shootings, among other acts of gun violence. Here are some of the most indelible moments from their stories.

The St. Louis Funeral Director Who Sees Teenagers Resigned to an Early Death

Jones, a St. Louis native who’s run a mortuary since 1976, overhears the conversations kids have when they wander into the casket display room as he’s making funeral arrangements for their friends and family members. He estimates that almost half of the city’s homicide victims come through his doors, but it’s the deaths of young gunshot victims that impact Jones the most. “It really disheartens me, because every new homicide is another young life thrown away,” he told The Trace in September. “I’m not numb to it.”

The Virginia Grandmother Who Had So Many Plans for Her Baby Granddaughter

Even before the August on-camera murders of two WDBJ news reporters in Roanoke, the local metropolitan area was grappling with an uptick in violence. One of the deaths that had previously rocked the community was the July fatal shooting of Mekeysha Lipford’s granddaughter, Aryah, who was killed by her mother’s boyfriend in a domestic dispute. Aryah’s death was one of many stories of children killed by gunfire this year that generated headlines across the country.

The Portland Father Who Lost His Youngest Son in a Different Oregon Shooting

Howard paints a grisly picture of the last moments of his son’s life, and the trauma that Anthony’s brother has endured because of it. The country was gripped by the Umpqua Community College shooting that left nine dead the day before when Howard learned that his youngest son, Anthony, 42, was shot and killed at a popular neighborhood haunt in Portland. Gang-related homicides are up in the city this year, but Anthony, who Howard described as his big and lovable son, wasn’t in a gang. He was out celebrating a birthday with his brother when he was shot five times after attempting to break up a fight between a friend and another bar patron.

The New Orleans Crime Reporter Who Knows the Sound a Mother Makes When She Sees Her Dead Child

In this profile of the metro crime reporters who make a living documenting their cities’ bloodshed, we hear the stories of journalists determined to chronicle the violence, hoping that readers might care, and risking that they’ll see something they can’t forget. Bullington’s depiction of mothers’ visceral reactions to seeing their children’s dead bodies underscores a common pattern: Reporters eventually leave every crime scene they visit, but some scenes never leave them.

The Connecticut Pastor and Activist Who Held a Vigil for His Son

Saylor had spoken at 19 gun-violence vigils in Hartford before his son Shane was shot and killed in October 2012. Less than two months later, Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary, killing 20 first graders and six adults. In the wake of the massacre, as Saylor watched politicians flood into his state decrying gun violence, he hoped in vain that lawmakers would address the problem of urban gun violence and victims like his son. “After Shane died, I wanted the world to hear me,” he told The Trace, “but the world was moving on.”

The Memphis Gun Violence Prevention Activist Who Draws on His Own Loss to Convince Survivors Not to Seek Revenge

After his son Prentice was killed in 1993, Moore spent a moment eager for revenge. Instead of acting out on his desire for payback, he vowed to stop others from seeking retribution with his nonprofit campaign called “Stop the Killing.” Moore likes to think his campaign has saved some lives, but there’s a somber reality in his work: He knows he won’t succeed in changing the mind of every potential killer. “Since my son’s been killed, I’ve been to over 100 funerals,” he told The Trace. “From 2 years old all the way up.”  

The Former Los Angeles Gang Member Who Knows the Unwritten Rules of a Community Riddled with Gun Violence

By the last week of December, there had been more than 430 gun-related homicides in Los Angeles this year. Gallegos’ description of the precautions he takes to avoid getting shot in south Los Angeles demonstrates how gun violence can permeate some inner-city neighborhoods. After his brother was shot and killed in November 2014, Gallegos’ fear and paranoia kept him close to home and off of the streets. Now, he coordinates after-school programs for kids who’ve already become well-acquainted with the risks of gun violence.  

The Houston Mother Who, Two Decades After Her Daughter’s Shooting Death, Remembers the Anguish She Felt When She First Found Out

Raynell Muskwinsky was 17 years old when she and her boyfriend were shot and killed by two acquaintances in 1984. The despair her mother, Gilda, experienced after her death marked the beginning of a painful, meandering recovery process. “You never get over losing a child,” she says. “You try to get better. But it’s hard.” Muskwinsky later learned from one of the killers — who planned to kill Raynell’s boyfriend —  that her daughter got shot “because she was there.”

The Nebraska Lawmaker Who is Raising Uncomfortable Truths

Chambers, a native of North Omaha, Nebraska, and the longest-serving state senator in Nebraska history, has unsuccessfully pushed for stricter gun regulations in his district for a decade. North Omaha, once home to a thriving African-American community, is now besieged by poverty, gang activity and violence. Chambers says that lawmakers move quickly to address problems affecting whites, but find excuses for not addressing the problem of gun violence, whose victims — especially in North Omaha — are mostly black.  

Additional research by Elizabeth Van Brocklin.

[Photo Scott Olson/Getty Images]