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Caught in the crossfire: Juvenile gunshot victims on the rise in Kansas City

A look at the numbers, and those on the front lines helping families impacted by violence
LeGend Taliferro
Posted at 11:11 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-08 00:11:50-04

As Kansas City continues to add to a record-breaking year of homicides, some of our youngest and most vulnerable are among the rising numbers.

While the death of 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro garnered widespread media attention, there are other cases involving children that didn't generate as many headlines.

Children's Mercy Hospital has treated 44 kids for gunshot wounds already this year.

When this violence erupts, police, doctors and social workers are often the ones helping families pick up the pieces. People like Lindsay Moran.

She might not wear a badge or a uniform, but she's there at the scene alongside Kansas City police officers when tragedy strikes.

Moran was, in fact, the social worker who responded when LeGend was shot and killed as he slept inside a Kansas City apartment. in late June.

"Our captain at our division called me that morning and asked that I come out," Moran said. "We were able to meet with the family. In those moments you're experiencing the human condition at its most raw element, right? One of our roles, we get to explain what's going on, who are all these people, what's happening."

While social workers comfort families, officers are able to focus on the job at hand.

"It enables us to work through the investigation and it enables us to gather the information that is so critical so needed for the investigation," KCPD spokeswoman Officer Doaa El-Ashkar. "It allows our detectives to speak to witnesses on scene to gather any video footage."

Unfortunately, Moran says her services and those of her fellow social workers have been needed more often this year at shootings where children are present, including an 11-year-old girl who was shot in the arm when bullets pierced her home back in February.

"I know in my division we had several children over the past couple of months, I think six total, who were shot — not killed, but still shot — and that's a traumatic injury," Moran said.

Beyond the kids who were hit by bullets, she says her division alone also has seen more than 30 reports where homes or cars were shot into with children inside, including 18 such reports since LeGend was killed.

"Two little boys were riding with mom to McDonald's when people were shooting past them into the car that they were in, so doing basic childhood things, like going to dinner at McDonald's, and they ended up being treated at (Children's) Mercy for those gunshot wounds," Moran said.

It's a tragic trend being seen in the emergency room, too.

"Similar to the homicides in Kansas City, and similar to what our colleagues are seeing with adult patients across the metro, we are well ahead of our number of gunshot wounds, non-fatal gunshot wounds, compared to last year," Dr. Denise Dowd, an emergency room physician at Children's Mercy Hospital, said.

During the first six months of 2019, Children's Mercy treated 22 children for gunshot wounds. There have been 38 so far in 2020, an increase of more than 72% from last year.

"In large part, those are not kids getting into guns," Dowd said of the increase. "Those are kids that are getting caught in the crossfire."

Five children have died from gunshot wounds this year at Children's Mercy. While the severity of the injuries for survivors varies, there's one thing that's consistent.

"Even if the child recovers physically, there's a lasting emotional and psychological impact on those kids and the members of their families," Dowd said.

As for the program where social workers accompany police to violent scenes, KCPD said they are one of the first in the country to implement this program.