Dec 12, 2023 - News

Indianapolis youth homicides hit record high

Data: Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department; Chart: Axios Visuals

The day before Mother's Day this year was hot. Hotter than it should've been in mid-May. Mourners vigorously waved paper fans while they waited in line to walk past Jamar Ward's white casket.

  • He should've turned 19 that day.

Instead, his mother leaned over his dead body and wailed to God.

State of play: When he was shot and killed two weeks earlier, Ward became the 15th teenager killed by a firearm in Indianapolis this year.

  • His death is part of a wave of gun violence that's killed a record number of young people (age 19 and under) this year, according to an Axios and Chalkbeat Indiana analysis of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department records and news articles.

Why it matters: Although the city's overall homicide rate is down from records set over the last several years, more young people are dying than ever before.

Zoom in: Two days after Ward's death, 19-year-old Markes Day was found shot to death in an alley — less than a month before he would have graduated from George Washington High School.

  • A week later, 17-year-old Jhavon Fisher and 18-year-old Nicholas Powell were killed during a violent Saturday that left five dead in three separate shootings.
  • Austin Tyler Bunn, 19, was killed three days after that in what police believed to be an accidental shooting.

By the numbers: So far, total homicides this year are down more than 20% from the record set in 2021. But any way you look at the numbers, more young people are dying.

  • Homicides among minors, kids under age 18, are up more than 25% from last year's record of 19 and triple pre-pandemic levels in 2018.
  • 44 teenagers have been shot to death since Jan. 1, up from 34 last year and 36 in 2021 — the city's most violent year.
Two side by side photos of two sisters.
Derisha Young (left) and her younger sister, Kaleiah Dean, were killed by gun violence two years apart. Photos: Courtesy of Derico Young

What's happening: Community members who work closely with youth and gun violence attribute the causes to a variety of factors — including social media and the easy access that teens have to guns.

What they're saying: "Why?" asks Derico Young. "Why does someone else have to bury another kid?"

  • Last month, Young's 14-year-old stepdaughter, Kaleiah Dean, was found dead in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she lived, becoming the 42nd teen killed by gunfire in Indianapolis.
  • Two years ago, Young's older daughter and Kaleiah's sister, Derisha Young, was found shot dead in the passenger seat of a car.
  • "It was almost the same way," Young said of Kaleiah's death. "She was shot in a car, only this time they pushed her out."
  • Young started a nonprofit called Ree-Ree's Place earlier this year to help parents cope with the loss of a child. Now, he's planning to add a youth group to help kids like his own son, who has lost two sisters.

Between the lines: Police have called on families to secure their guns and monitor their kids' social media accounts — where fights can start and parties like the one that left one dead and nine injured at Halloween are advertised — but they're at a loss, too, as to how to reach young people who turn so quickly to guns to solve problems.

  • "I don't know the answer," IMPD Capt. Mark McCardia said to reporters gathered at the scene of Dean's death, "but the community has to come together and do everything they can to try to stop the violence in the city."

This article was co-published by Chalkbeat Indiana and Axios Indianapolis as part of a reporting partnership about youth gun violence in Indianapolis. Read the Chalkbeat Indiana story here.

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