CHARLOTTE — This week, Channel 9 is digging deep into a community crisis -- kids and crime.
In the first six months of this year, in Charlotte alone, 578 kids and teens experienced gun violence. 130 of those accused of pulling the trigger have been under 18 as well.
- 9 Investigates: Is the justice system stopping youth gun violence?
- 9 Investigates: The community efforts to stop gun violence among kids, teens
- ‘Kids y’all are killing’: Mothers who lost children to gun violence share their stories
- RESOURCES: Programs, organizations working to address youth crime
The numbers are sobering and leave many looking for answers and solutions.
As students head back to school, Channel 9 has seen how violence on the streets can spill into the classroom. At every scene we rush to cover, behind the blue lights, are families forever changed, lives ended and futures destroyed.
Channel 9′s Allison Latos spent weeks questioning key players involved in the gun violence problem -- from lawmakers and police, to community groups and grieving parents. She asked two main questions: Why is this violence happening to our kids and by our kids? And what can we do to stop it?
Juvenile crime: By the numbers
Police said that the frequency of shootings committed by juveniles has been increasing. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as of July 31, 130 juveniles have been suspects in gun-related cases this year, and 578 juveniles have been victims of gun-related crimes.
“This is an issue that’s not going away and is actually getting worse -- teens getting their hands on firearms and committing violent crimes, including murder. These firearms are getting into their hands in different ways, but the most common it seems is theft,” CMPD said in a tweet in July.
Since the beginning of 2022, more than 500 guns have been stolen from cars in the Charlotte community, CMPD said in its mid-year crime report.
Additionally, out of 75 homicide investigations this year, as of Aug. 22, nine of the victims were younger than 18 years old.
Homicide victims younger than 18 years old
Here is a look at the cases this year with victims under the age of 18:
- On Feb. 18, officers said they went to Mallard Park Drive for an assault with a deadly weapon call. When they arrived, they found 15-year-old Martin Solano-Tashpulatova, who had been shot, lying outside an apartment complex. He was taken to the hospital and died days later from his injuries, CMPD said. In April, CMPD charged another 15-year-old boy with his murder.
- Investigators say a 2-year-old boy was found dead on March 12 in a pond at Park Road Park in south Charlotte. A warrant said the boy’s mother, Natalia Suero, 29, gave investigators “vague and inconsistent statements” about what happened. According to the warrant, Suero said she “blacked out” and couldn’t give an “estimated timeline around the incident.” However, police said they consulted an expert who told them the mother’s story of how the child died “was not supported by science.” She was arrested in New York and will be brought back to Charlotte to face a charge of murder.
- Police have not announced any arrests in connection with a shooting on March 15 near Remount Road in south Charlotte that left a 14-year-old boy dead and a 13-year-old hurt. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools confirmed the two teenagers were CMS students. Police haven’t released a motive behind the shooting, but many residents think either the teens were in the wrong place at the wrong time or it was a case of mistaken identity.
- Investigators charged a 14-year-old with shooting and killing a 17-year-old in north Charlotte on March 29, police said. Officers responded to Franklin Avenue near Lucena Street, where they found William Avery III shot several times. Avery was taken to the hospital where he later died, police said.
- CMPD has charged two 15-year-olds in a shooting over Memorial Day weekend that left another 15-year-old dead in east Charlotte. Officers said John Daniel Morales was shot on First Run Circle on May 29. He was taken to the hospital where he later died from his injuries, police said.
- Officers identified 17-year-old Andy Hernandez as the victim in a deadly shooting on June 4 in west Charlotte. Officers got to to West Boulevard and Leake Street and found Hernandez inside a car that had crashed into a tree, detectives said. He died at the scene, they said. Police told Channel 9 an argument led to the shooting.
- On June 21, officers responded to an apartment complex on Branchview Drive in southwest Charlotte, where they found 16-year-old Jeferson Cantareno shot to death inside a vehicle. An 18-year-old who was also in the vehicle was found shot nearby. He was taken to a local hospital but was expected to recover from his injuries. According to a police report, a person called 911 saying there was a crash and shootout. On July 11, Noe Raul Chinchilla was arrested in Texas for Cantareno’s murder, police said.
- Officers were called on July 7 to Sofley Road in north Charlotte for a welfare check, but when they arrived, investigators found Vladimir Antonio Garcia, 17, who had been shot. MEDIC confirmed he died at the scene. After leading authorities on a chase, Angel Manuel Basurto-Mendoza, 18, was arrested and charged with Garcia’s murder, police said.
- On Aug. 11, officers went to Southwest Boulevard near West Charlotte High School, where they found 14-year-old Gregory Lacorde Holmes, who had been shot inside an apartment. He died at the hospital, investigators said. A witness told Channel 9 his cousin had brought a friend home, both around 14 or 15 years old. The cousin pulled the trigger and killed his friend, the witness said. Police released an update saying a juvenile was in custody and facing a murder charge.
Why are violent crime suspects getting younger?
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police data for the first half of 2022 shows assaults with a firearm have risen more than 25% over a five-year average. The shooters are trending younger, too.
William Lassiter is the Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice in North Carolina.
“A lot of the kids that are coming in with gun charges -- we’ve never had them in juvenile justice before,” he said.
Lassiter said juvenile crime was on a 10-year decline until the pandemic hit in 2020.
“Typically in the past, we’d see them build up with smaller behaviors leading to more serious crimes,” he said. “That’s not occurring right now and I think it’s because we missed those kids for that year and a half.”
During the pandemic, a lot of kids were underdiagnosed and underserved.
“They turned to resources that were there -- gangs -- because resources that are good influences weren’t available,” he said.
For six years, CMPD Officer Matt Teague has worked juvenile crime.
“When they get in a group of peers, they’re a totally different person,” he said.
Teague says the spark that leads to shootings is often petty and insignificant.
“Anything from something said on social media to a boy or a girl issue,” he said.
Convincing our kids that guns won’t solve their problems is an incredible challenge that will take more than just one person to tackle. But it’s a worthwhile mission to prevent mothers from mourning the loss of their children.
Solutions and resources for children, teens and families
As Allison Latos explores the causes of the crisis, we are diving into solutions to the problem.
Latos looked inside the efforts on our streets to stop shootings and save lives. Arresting kids and prosecuting them isn’t the only option. There are a lot of people pushing to have personal impacts on our kids, but the need for resources is rising.
Channel 9 has created a list of resources for children, teens and families. You can find links to local programs and organizations by clicking here.
>> Click here to read more as Latos examines the efforts to get teens to turn their lives around before it’s too late.
(WATCH BELOW: CMPD: Violent crime, property crimes on the rise in Charlotte)
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