Number Of Children Killed Or Wounded By Guns Has Risen Over Past Year

Laylah Petersen, Sierra Guyton Were Among High-Profile Cases Of Children Fatally Shot In Wisconsin In 2014

Ja'Nyela Marsh-Highshaw must wear a helment to protect a part of her skull until she can undergo surgery. Photo courtesy of Janikka Marsh.

Getting the attention of any 4-year-old can be a challenge. It’s no different with Ja’Nyela Marsh-Highshaw.

Ja’Nyela recently spent her last day at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa before heading home after an approximately six-week stay. She was hospitalized after she was hit by gunfire while sitting in a parked car in her hometown of Racine on Nov. 5. A bullet enter her head, just above her right eyebrow.

The injury means she’s among the many Wisconsin juveniles that have been killed or wounded from gunfire this year — the total number of which has surpassed 2013’s tally.

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Ja’Nyelas mother, Janikka Marsh, said her daughter is actually doing fairly well.

“Walkin, talkin, dancin. Her memory seems to be excellent. She remembers what she was doing at the moment. She remembers it happening,” said Marsh.

Ja’Nyela isn’t completely healed, however. She wears a pink helmet to protect part of her skull that will be repaired during an upcoming surgery.

Janikka Marsh worries about how the kindergartner will do in school.

“I’m more concerned with the things she has yet to learn,” she said. “Like, the things she has already learned has set in, but I’m not sure which way the future learning process will go.”

Just one day after Ja’Nyela Marsh-Highshaw was wounded in Racine, another child was hit by gunfire: Laylah Petersen, a 5-year-old Milwaukee girl who died after two men opened fire outside her family’s home.

At a news conference following that incident, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn held up a photo of Laylah and put it in his uniform’s front shirt pocket. He vowed to keep the photo there next to pictures of his grandchildren until the assailants responsible for Laylah’s death were put in jail.

Seven weeks after the shooting, police have not announced any arrests for the shooting.

Laylah’s death is part of a rise in gun incidents involving children this year that the Milwaukee Police Department has had to deal with. Youth homicides are down by three from last year, but non-fatal shootings of juveniles are up by about a dozen to more than 70.

The higher toll has occasionally prompted politicians to call for change, such as in July, when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett talked about the death of 10-year-old Sierra Guyton. Guyton was caught in crossfire between felons with guns while they were on a Milwaukee playground in May.

“It underscores the need for stronger laws in Madison,” said Barrett. “It underscores the need right here in this community for a lot of people to do some soul-searching, because we have far too many people who use violence to solve their problems.

Until the gun violence lessens, Milwaukee School Superintendent Darienne Driver said she’ll continue to worry about the wellbeing of children — both in terms of being hit by bullets, and in terms of the trauma of living in violent neighborhoods.

“It’s not always being a witness to some time of a violent incident,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s something as simple as just walking to school and seeing a memorial.”

Driver said Milwaukee Public Schools is working on improving safe zones around schools and making more use of youth counselors.

Meanwhile, the number of overall gun homicide victims continues to increase as well: A 48-year-old Milwaukee man named Gary Douglas became the 109th victim of the year in Wisconsin after he died on Sunday.

Here’s an interactive map showing gun homicides in which the victim was under age 18: