By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – A small boy with dark, curly hair and big brown eyes, he looked lost in the hospital bed.
This was nearly 25 years ago. I’d gone to interview this child and his family because he had been the victim of a drive-by.
He was a third-grader. He was shy. He answered my questions with short, polite answers. He said he couldn’t wait to leave the hospital. He wanted to play again with his friends and his cousins.
I asked him if he remembered why he was in the hospital.
“I was shot,” he said. “Somebody shot me.”
When he said that, his mother and his grandmother, who sat beside his hospital bed, burst into tears.
It was a summer of shootings.
Almost every week, it seemed the newspaper where I worked sent me to cover the funeral of another teenager or child who had been killed or to talk with grieving parents or family members.
One father took me into his dead son’s bedroom. The boy, who had been killed just before his 14th birthday, had been a budding artist.
His father showed me his son’s sketches. He talked about how he and his wife had bought their boy a nice set of art supplies for his birthday. They planned to give it to him at a family party.
He looked for a long moment at one of his son’s sketches. Then his face twisted into tears.
“Why?” he sobbed.
I didn’t have an answer.
The police officers I interviewed that summer said they felt overwhelmed.
There were so many guns flowing into the streets that entire neighborhoods were turned into free-fire zones.
That squared with what I had seen.
During the school year, a couple of times a week, I’d jog up to an inner-city elementary school over my lunch hour.
The principal was a friend of mine. She’d told me that the teaching staff was almost entirely female and that many of the boys in the school would benefit from a male presence.
I organized kickball games at recess and talked with boys the principal or the teachers thought needed some special attention.
One day, when I trotted up, I saw that the maintenance crew was replacing a window.
I asked my friend what happened.
She shook her head.
“Someone shot it out,” she said.
She said it wasn’t the first time it had happened.
Some of the children in the school told me they could hear gunshots in their neighborhood at night.
One boy the teachers wanted me to work with had an easy laugh and an impish smile. He was bright and had an intuitive understanding of numbers. After kickball, we would play math games or do numbers puzzles.
His laugh when he solved a brainteaser faster than I could be joy itself.
Three years later, when he was in high school, he went riding with some friends. They ran into another group of guys.
Someone had a gun.
The little boy who loved numbers was shot.
When my friend, the principal, called to tell me about his death, we both sat in silence for a long moment, too stunned to talk.
In Texas this week, there are a lot of stories like these.
A troubled teenager took his father’s guns to his high school and opened fire. He killed at least 10 people and wounded many others.
This happened in a secure school in one of the most gun-happy states in the country. That hasn’t stopped gun advocates from arguing, over the objections of police, parents, students, teachers, and others, that guns shouldn’t be any part of our discussions about how we keep our children safe.
For them, guns are always the focus.
Me, I can’t help thinking about how many schools and how many teachers have to replace windows, doors, and walls because they’ve been shot up.
I wonder how many math prodigies with sweet smiles we’ve lost to gun violence.
How many parents stand in their children’s rooms and ask why? through tears.
How many small children say, “I was shot. Somebody shot me.”
And how many would say that, if they could speak from the grave?
FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
This article was posted by the City-County Observer without bias, opinion or editing.