DECATUR — Community leaders responded with concern Wednesday to the shooting of a 12-year-old girl in a Decatur neighborhood the night before, when she was wounded while apparently fleeing from gunfire a few blocks away.
The incident comes as the city is set to finish 2017 with more shootings than at least any of the past six years. At least four of those shootings involved children and adolescents who are 16 or younger.
“As a parent, we’re faced with not being able to let our children go outside and play because we fear for them,” said the Rev. Courtney Carson, a Decatur school board member who visited the scene after the shooting Tuesday night to talk with residents and offer prayers. “It’s hard to let them watch TV because that is corrupted, and it’s hard for them to be on social media because that is corrupted and toxic.”
The girl, who has not been identified by police, was shot shortly after 6 p.m. as she headed home after apparently hearing shots fired moments earlier in the area of East Clay and South Maffitt streets, detective Sgt. Steve Carroll said. She was running in the 800 block of East Main Street when she was hit by a single bullet in the leg. She was taken to a local hospital for treatment, Carroll said, and is expected to be OK despite injuries to her calf.
Police said they don’t yet have a motive for the shootings, and they did not provide a suspect description Wednesday.
“Cars were seen leaving that area, and when the girl got hit, cars were seen driving down the street,” Carroll said. “The shooting at Clay and Maffitt was within a minute of the shooting involving the girl.”
Carroll said five shell casings were recovered from the scene where the girl was wounded, and a car had been hit multiple times at the Clay and Maffitt shooting scene.
On Tuesday night, police said witnesses told them a group in a car had been in an argument with another group of people who may have been on a sidewalk or in a house. It was not clear if the girl was affiliated with anyone involved in the argument.
Carroll said the investigation is ongoing and detectives were looking for help from witnesses and anyone with knowledge of the shootings. Call police at (217) 424-2734 or Crime Stoppers at (217) 423-8477.
Carson, who volunteers mentoring young people and has long spoken out on issues of gun violence, said he planned to meet with the family of the wounded girl Wednesday. He said the Decatur community must do more to stop the random gun violence, which has now wounded “one of our beautiful daughters.”
Carson said he had reached out to other church and community leaders to find common ground for a coordinated approach to try to bring peace back to the streets of the city. Carson said a multifaceted approach is needed to curb gun crime, from advocating for gun laws that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals to demanding tough sentences for those convicted of gun crime.
He said it was past time to get out in front of the violence and do something, rather than speaking out only after a shooting has happened.
“Because right now we are reacting to murder versus having a proactive approach to our babies getting shot and wounded and dead in the streets,” he said.
The shooting continues a violent period for Decatur, as the Herald & Review reported earlier this month. The most recent police data shows 82 shootings for the first 10 months of 2017, compared with 54 for all of 2016 and 75 for all of 2015. Eight homicides also were reported during the period, four more than last year.
Since then, a 48-year-old man Effingham man was found shot to death in the 1600 block of North Edward Street on Nov. 18. A number of other shootings have occurred, but an official total for November was not available.
Community leaders point to data that shows violent crime in Decatur is lower than similar-size cities such as Champaign and Springfield. Police also say it is also lower than the 1990s, when homicides reached into the teens and the city received a reputation as being dangerous.
In addition to Tuesday night's shooting, at least three others this year have involved children. They were:
- Justin Lee Murphy Jr., 2, was shot and killed Oct. 14. His 17-year-old uncle, Zachary M. Pherigo has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the case. Pherigo told police that he shot his nephew with a gun he did not realize was loaded while the two were playing "cops and robbers."
- A 12-year-old boy was shot May 17 when a man forced his way into a residence in the 400 block of South Maffit Street.
- A 16-year-old Decatur girl suffered serious injuries after she was shot twice July 10 as she chatted with friends in the 1400 block of North Edward Street.
Carson said tackling the societal ills that spark gun violence won’t be easy or quick. But he said the alternative is leaving children to face a world increasingly at odds with their well-being and safety. To make change, he said, people need to believe they can do better.
“You’ve got to have faith we can do it, and I have that faith,” he added.
The violence is "nothing new," said Sue Lawson, president of the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations, or CONO.
"If you go into some of those neighborhoods, you hear gunshots in the daytime," Lawson said. Violence has become so frequent that it no longer surprises her, but Lawson said multiple organizations work together to build community and improve Decatur neighborhoods.
The scene of the shooting Tuesday was in a mostly residential area east of downtown, between Prairie Avenue and Wood Street.
"The police are doing everything they can, and they can’t babysit every street in town," Lawson said.
The trend toward juvenile-involved shootings is something Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club Bruce Jeffery said is "just senseless violence."
“It’s unfortunate that we are dealing with gun violence in our community,” he said. "Some people don’t have a value of life."
The Boys & Girls Club functions as a safe place for children to hang out after school and to stay out of trouble, Jeffery said. Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett announced in September that his private foundation had given the organization $710,000 to build a dedicated area for teens.
“I think what happens is young kids always look up to the big kids in the neighborhood, and if the big kids are carrying guns around and selling dope that is what they see and that becomes their role model,” Buffett told the Herald & Review at the time. “And that’s true anywhere in the world, not just in Decatur.”