Will McAnaul was just 3 years old in 2009 when he found his father’s handgun under a bed at his family’s Vandalia home. He pulled the trigger, the gun fired and a bullet struck him just below the eye. His death was called a tragic accident.
One-year-old Elijah Johnson was in the arms of his mother’s boyfriend when a bullet entered his torso during a 2016 drive-by shooting. The boyfriend exchanged gunfire with two men seeking revenge for a robbery as Elijah died.
A single bullet pierced 15-year-old Ronika Owens-Clemons in 2010 on the playground of a Dayton elementary school. The shooter, Bobby Lavel Moore, then age 16, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and tampering with evidence.
The three are among at least 28 Montgomery County children who have died by gunfire since 2007, a Dayton Daily News and News Center 7 examination of Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County data found.
Another child — Jvontae Johnston — joined the grim list this week. The 2-year-old was shot by his 13-year-old brother who, police said, found his father’s gun.
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Nationwide, nearly 1,300 children die and 5,790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year, according to a 2017 study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts said adult firearm owners must ensure guns avoid the hands of young children and are cautiously and safely approached in the minds of older children.
“We’ve got a lot of political talk about gun control,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, a Republican, “but what we need to do as adults is control our guns.”
Jamahl Evans, Jvontae’s father and a 35-year-old convicted felon, was arrested and is facing federal gun charges, records show. Deputies said they found two guns in the Harrison Twp. home, along with scales and marijuana.
“It’s unfortunate because (Evans) is a convicted felon and shouldn’t have a gun at all,” Plummer said. “But if you’re in the drug trade and you’re dealing with drugs and cash, unfortunately they all have guns to protect themselves.”
Evans’ cousin, Raymond Saunders, tried to explain the law versus his cousin’s reality.
“It’s hard to say you can’t protect your family in a city where you need protection,” Saunders said. “This was out of his control, any parent could get busy, get tired, lay down and go to sleep and your other child, who’s consciously aware of what he’s doing, that can happen, I pray it happens to no one.”
“He’s devastated by this,” Saunders said. “They got this man in solitary, in a suicide smock, he doesn’t want to live anymore.”
Jvontae’s 13-year-old brother was arrested and is being held in the juvenile detention center on a reckless homicide charge, court officials said. The newspaper is not naming him at this time.
Saunders said the gun was not accessible to children and the 13-year-old boy “went searching for” it, but Plummer said the boy was curious about the weapon. Legal experts interviewed by the newspaper suggested the reckless homicide charge the boy faces indicates authorities do not believe the shooting was intentional.
On average, three Montgomery County children died per year by firearms between 2007 and 2017. Zero such deaths were recorded in 2011. The highest number of deaths, six, was recorded in 2016. The data reflect firearm deaths of Montgomery County residents age 17 and under, including suicides, regardless of whether the deaths took place within the county.
Nationally, the CDC research found unintentional firearm deaths among children declined from 2002 to 2014 and firearm homicides declined from 2007 to 2014, but firearm suicides decreased between 2002 and 2007 and then showed a significant upward trend from 2007 to 2014.
Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of death overall among U.S. children aged 1 to 17 years and the second leading cause of injury-related death, according to the CDC’s 2017 study.
The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children, the study found.
Jim Irvine, board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a Second Amendment advocacy group, said education and gun safety are key to preventing deaths.
“When you’ve got a six-month-old child, is there any way you can explain to him the totality of death? There’s no possible way,” Irvine said. “So there’s only one possible way to keep that child safe, and that’s to absolutely positively ensure that child never gets his hands on a gun.”
“When your child is 16 years old, there’s no way you can ensure your kid can’t get his hands on a gun,” Irvine said. “The only way you can keep that kid safe is through education.”
“When is a child mature enough to go from one side of the line to the other? It depends on the kid.”
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News Center 7 reporter Mike Campbell contributed reporting.