PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic is creating a new generation of victims: Youth left to grief alone.
The toll of recent days showcases the issue. On Monday, a 14-year-old boy was charged with murder in the shooting of Tiffany Fletcher, a mother of three who was struck by a stray bullet on Friday afternoon while working at the Mill Creek Recreation Center. Also last weekend, 17-year-old Teryn Johnson was shot and killed while walking her dog in Frankford.
Youth advocates and city leaders discussed the impact gun violence at an online roundtable event hosted Tuesday by the Philadelphia chapter of the Transition Network Giving Circle, a philanthropic group of professional women, as part of an annual focus on the wellbeing of children.
“We have to recognize violence is a cycle,” said Kendra Van de Water, the executive director of YEAH Philly, a nonprofit that works with teens in West and Southwest Philadelphia who have been impacted by violence.
She questions those who make distinctions between “victims” and “perpetrator.” In fact, research suggests that many of the people who engage in violence have been victims of violence themselves.
Nearly 160 children and teens under the age of 18 have been shot in Philadelphia this year, a rate similar to 2021. Of those, more than 20 died. The vast majority of victims are Black. The youngest was a baby girl that has yet to celebrate her first birthday.
Many more children in Philadelphia have witnessed violence. A 2021 study out of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that a shooting increased the number of emergency department visits for mental health complaints for children in the surrounding blocks for a few weeks.
Too often, however, they remain unsupported.
“Having a space for young people who are going through things to be able to talk about it with their peers is very very important,” Van de Water said.
Rueben Jones, who works with young people impacted by gun violence in Philadelphia, has observed that other communities appear to make sure that students get grief counseling after being exposed to gun violence.