KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Each year, city and state leaders vow to implement real change to combat gun violence in the Kansas City area.
In the last decade, homicide rates have increased. Right now, Kansas City, Missouri, is on pace to match the deadliest year in this city’s history, which was 2020.
Community members tend to focus on the above numbers, as reported by the KCMO Police Department, but advocates in the Black community believe the victims have been long overlooked, especially Black women who are being killed at disproportionate rates.
Advocates and families then bear the burden of educating the public while shouting from the rooftops to bring light to the issue.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention validates their concerns. The latest data, from 2021, maintains Missouri is the most dangerous state, trailing only Washington, D.C., for Black women and girls.
In 2020, Missouri had the second-highest homicide rate for Black women and girls.
In 2019, Missouri topped the list.
More than a statistic
Violence in the Kansas City metro has left an unmeasurable trail of destruction. Year after year, families are torn apart.
“My life will never be the same,” said Crystal Graves, a mother grieving the loss of her daughter.
We’ve kept in touch with Graves since her daughter was murdered as she’s been gracious enough to let us follow her through the process.
Through her devastation, she holds on to pictures and memories of her Oriana, which Graves said are all she has left to feel close to her daughter.
“Oriana Raisa N’Chelle Ashanti Starr. My five-pound baby,” Graves said proudly.
Oriana Starr, the youngest of eight children, had a name as unique as her personality.
“She had to come out with a bang,” Graves said. “Oriana, it means ‘golden one.’ She lived up to it, she loved that name.”
Oriana lived and loved big in her 22 years on Earth, but her light was snuffed in December 2020.
“I didn't see it coming,” Graves said. “I didn't see it get to the point to where he would kill her.”
Oriana was with her boyfriend, Brandon McDaniel, for less than a year.
“She was getting herself together as far as getting a new place, getting ready to move, and he wasn't going to be a part of that,” Graves said.
On Dec. 16, 2020, McDaniel was at Oriana’s Independence apartment. He claims the two had an argument when he shot Oriana in the back of the head from just feet away.
He left her there, and she wasn't found for another day.
“When the police knocked on my door that Thursday night, changed my life forever,” Graves said. “And then knowing she passed on the 16th. I [saw] her on the 16th.”
McDaniel attempted to change his appearance and hide out in Arkansas, where he was arrested three weeks later.
During his trial, McDaniel claimed he shot Oriana in self-defense during the argument, but the jury didn't buy it.
In November 2022, a judge sentenced McDaniel to 30 years in prison for Oriana's murder and armed criminal action. But McDaniel filed an appeal shortly after, which is still ongoing.
When he killed Oriana, McDaniel was a felon on parole and wasn’t supposed to have a gun. In 2017, he was found guilty of robbing and assaulting a KCATA bus driver with a gun.
“The signs. And as a mother, you see the ‘shoulda, coulda, wouldas,'" Graves said.
Looking back, Graves said she saw McDaniel’s controlling behavior escalate in the month before Oriana’s death.
“Every time I would go to her apartment, he would always have to come,” Graves said. “Then she started telling me, 'He makes me sick. He's always trying to follow me.'"
Fatal domestic violence
Oriana is more than a statistic. Unfortunately, she is one of the many faces who represent the stark reality of fatal domestic violence in Missouri.
Domestic violence murders have increased since 2017, according to data the KSHB 41 I-Team obtained from the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
After analyzing the data, we found male victims are more likely to be killed by their own parents or other family members, while females are more likely to be killed by a partner or an ex. The majority of women killed by a partner or ex are shot with a gun.
“Since my baby died, since she was murdered, there's been so many women getting killed,” Graves said. “And just murder, period. I'm just tired.”
Myana Henderson’s family understands Graves' pain. Myana was murdered in August 2022, leaving a gaping hole in her loved ones' hearts.
“She was a beautiful, beautiful soul, and I just pray that my baby rests in peace and we get justice for her,” Myana’s mother, Dawn Kopecky, said at her vigil.
Myana was 21 years old when she was ambushed, shot and killed in a gas station parking lot on Independence Avenue.
Court documents show her loved ones said the suspect, D’Angelo Fisher, tried to force himself on Myana. Fisher barely knew Myana, but her loved ones told police he stalked her, called her nonstop and even threatened to hurt her.
At the time of the shooting, Fisher was on parole for a prior first-degree robbery conviction.
Kopecky still can’t wrap her mind around why shooting and killing her daughter was ever an option.
“Why did you do this to her? What did she do to you that was so bad?” Kopecky said.
Fisher is in jail awaiting his murder trial, which is set to begin in early 2024.
MSHP's domestic violence statistics combined with the CDC data we gathered paint a disturbing picture for Black women in Missouri.
The data shows the Midwest and states bordering the Midwes are the most dangerous for Black women.
A Black woman is five times more likely to be killed in Missouri than in New York, according to the CDC.
Missouri’s homicide rate for Black women is 19.87 per 100,000 people, the second highest in the country after Washington, D.C. (20.45). In comparison, the homicide rate for white women in Missouri is 2.61.
We also talked with Rosa Page, founder and creator of Black Femicide US, since she tracks the homicides of Black women and girls across the country.
“My research has been showing that there is a steady increase going on,” Page said.
Per her data, a Black woman is killed every 5 1/2 hours in the U.S., and nearly 1,000 Black women and girls were killed in 2022.
The CDC’s data is even higher, showing 2,000 Black women were killed in the U.S. in 2021 (the most recent year available), an increase from 1,300 in 2019.
“The reason this work is so important — we need to start addressing this issue and tackling it, not only within the Black community but I would like lawmakers and our politicians to do something about this issue,” Page said. “Unfortunately, not much is being done.”
What can Missouri do?
Minnesota was the first state to launch a task force on missing and murdered Black women in 2021. The unit analyzed systemic causes of violence, including enduring racist stereotypes of Black women, lower health outcomes and fewer economic opportunities.
Following the task force’s recommendations, Minnesota passed a law establishing a special office for missing and murdered Black women. The office will dedicate resources to reopening suspicious death cases, investigating active cases and providing support for families.
Advocates are urging Missouri to follow in Minnesota’s footsteps.
“I'd like to see our elected officials come together,” said Michele L. Watley, founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet. “They need to be clear that this is a crisis they are going to target to eradicate.”
Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet is a nonprofit group that works to amplify the voices of Black women through advocacy and education. The group has held community meetings discussing the topic of missing and murdered Black women in Kansas City over the last year.
“What is going on in our city that Black women, Black girls and trans people are being killed at disproportionate rates?” Watley said.
We shared our data findings with Watley.
“This data more than justifies a prioritization and the allocation of city funds and taxpayer funds to deal with what is, essentially, a crisis,” Watley said.
Watley said her group is happy to work with any elected official who is willing to make this issue a priority.
Allies in KC
KCMO Mayor Pro Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw told us it’s her job to bring attention to the data.
“It’s incumbent upon me to work with my colleagues to try and find solutions to that,” she said.
Most of the homicide victims in the city are Black men, but Parks-Shaw said Black women don’t receive the attention they deserve.
“It’s time for us to talk about Black women and girls who are losing their lives to this gun violence as well,” Parks-Shaw said.
We showed Parks-Shaw our findings, too. And while she wasn’t surprised, she was still alarmed.
“It says a lot,” Parks-Shaw said. “It says quite a bit about the disparity that we have in this city, in our state.”
Most of the murders in the city happen in her district, 5th District, and in the third.
“When I looked at the life expectancy issue we have in Kansas City, that you can live in one zip code and live up to 20 years less than someone who lives a mile away in another zip code, that’s what inspired me to run for office in the first place,” Parks-Shaw said.
Parks-Shaw reminded us the city council doesn’t control KCPD; it's run by a state board. However, she said she can still work within the system she has.
She recently introduced and helped pass two ordinances that target violence. One will allocate $30 million over five years to youth violence prevention groups. The other establishes a city task force to prioritize city services in high-crime areas.
“In order for us to get to improvement in our crimes and homicides, we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of it,” Parks-Shaw said. “We need to, first of all, invest in addressing the root causes.”
Parks-Shaw also pointed to the KC 360 program, which is modeled on the Omaha 360 anti-violence program. Omaha 360 was launched in 2008 after a spike in violent crime in the city.
The Empowerment Network reported the Omaha Police Department saw a "74% decrease in gun violence from 2008 to 2018," crediting Omaha 360.
The KC 360 program brings city leaders and organizations together to have discussions about how to reduce violent crime long term. Participants include KC Common Good, KCPD, city government officials, church leaders and area anti-violence nonprofits.
There are currently no efforts for a task force on missing and murdered Black women in KC, but Parks-Shaw said she would “definitely be interested in that.”
Crystal Graves feels as though a targeted but compassionate approach would mean the world to other grieving parents who are just seeking justice.
“I’m going to make sure her death wasn't in vain. Make sure someone remembers Oriana,” Graves said. “I can't help the world, but if I can just help one person, then I could say, ‘Job well done. We did it, Ori.’”
Risk factors for the high homicide rates we see for Black women carry over into why we see more Black women and girls missing in Kansas City as well. The I-Team will follow up on this information with an upcoming story.
FBI spotlight on Missouri
The Violence Policy Center released a report this year analyzing 2020 FBI homicide data.
The report found the homicide rate for Black male victims was more than four times the overall rate for male homicide victims, while the homicide rate for Black female victims was more than twice the overall rate for female homicide victims.
Unsurprisingly, Missouri’s data stands out and has its own section within the report.
“Missouri had the highest Black homicide victimization rate in the nation for the seventh year in a row” in 2020, and the state “has ranked either first or second in the nation for Black homicide victimization for 14 years in a row," per the report.
Missouri’s Black homicide rate data was more than twice the national average.