Tears well. Her voice catches. Erica Jones lost a 24-year-old daughter to gun violence in the streets of St. Louis. In August 2015, Whitney Brown was getting into her new car at the intersection of Mimika and Shulte avenues, with her 5-year-old son in the back seat and a sister nearby, when bullets poured from an approaching vehicle. That’s why the mother now raising her orphaned grandson speaks out, when she can speak about it at all.
Jones works for a nonprofit, adolescent substance-abuse program down Kingshighway Boulevard from the Washington University Medical Campus and often drives JaKeem Jones, now 6, past the hospitals where his mother hoped to one day work as a nurse.
“Every time we pass here, he says ‘Can we go in and see Mommy?’” Jones recalled. “How do you let a 5-year-old know his mother is never coming back?”
Jones visited the Medical Campus on March 7 in a show of support for the Institute for Public Health’s symposium titled “Pediatric Firearm Injury and Safety: Keeping Our Kids Safe.” The symposium opened with a small, morning session for community partners, “The Value of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs.” The morning session highlighted the work of the Victim of Violence Youth Mentor Program launched by St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 2012. Using a public health approach, social workers offer support and case management to afflicted children and families. On average, two St. Louis children per month younger than 15 years old get treated at the hospital for firearm injuries and 70 children overall per year. “My grandson could have been one of those statistics,” said Jones, who works as a lead behavioral health-care technician at Preferred Family Healthcare.
“Thirty-two thousand people die a year as a result of gun violence,” William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University, told the afternoon crowd consisting primarily of health professionals, educators and students. “We need to face that as a public-health issue. Because that’s more people than die in road-safety accidents every year.”
Washington University created this Institute for Public Health initiative, “Gun Violence: A Public Health Crisis,” almost two years ago with the intent of bringing together community groups, hospitals, academics, officials and more to better address the issues. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton opened the afternoon symposium session by talking about that history.
According to Poli Rijos, coordinator for the initiative, “During the past two years, we have connected with over 40 community organizations who are actively working to prevent gun violence and are applying evidence-based and evidence-informed interventions into their practices. Our goal is to support innovative research and unify hundreds, if not thousands, of people working toward solutions. The pediatric symposium shed light on more interventions that would bring results.”
The keynote panelist was Ted Miller of Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation, a noted researcher in health economics and injury prevention. Miller used the symposium as a stage to announce the findings of his latest round of gun-violence research:
- Every death costs the United States $6.081 million in lost future wages, family support, hospital fees, governmental costs and more.
- Every hospital admittance due to a firearm injury costs $72,450.
- While suicides account for 48 percent of gun violence in a year, assaults account for an almost equal amount, at 45 percent.
- Gunshot wounds in total cost $251 billion nationally and $6.3 billion in Missouri — 1.75 times the cost of drunk-driving accidents.
- Every gunshot wound costs the average household owning a gun $5,370 and every U.S. resident $785.
“I just want people to understand that you can’t take this lightly,” Jones said. “It’s mothers like me who can’t even sit here and tell that story without falling apart. But I’m just grateful I’m one of those mothers who is able to speak.
“What is it going to take for all of this to stop? That’s what I don’t understand — kids being shot in the streets. Lives are all valuable.”
For more information on what Washington University is doing about gun violence in the St. Louis region and beyond, visit the Institute’s Gun Violence Initiative online.