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ST. LOUIS — Eddie Hill III remembers how his son would drag him outside to play basketball on the blacktop near their home in the evenings, and tears come into his eyes.

"I ain't doing good at all," Hill said, wearing a shirt with the image of his son Eddie Hill IV, emblazoned on it along with the boy's nickname, Whogi. "I don't want nobody feeling this ... it's senseless. People just don't care no more. They're killing kids and everything."

Ten-year-old Eddie Hill IV died in a shooting on the evening of July 19 in the 4700 block of Page Boulevard on his own front porch. His father was with him. Eddie is the ninth area child killed in shootings since June.

A Thursday morning rally against gun violence was followed by an emotional vigil Thursday evening for Eddie Hill IV. Family members, friends, community members and community leaders gathered to memorialize Eddie, preachers speaking passionately from his family's front porch steps in the Lewis Place neighborhood about bringing an end to the gun violence plaguing the community. The crowd stretched across neighboring yards and into the street.

"Brothers and sisters, we are not all right," Better Family Life Vice President of Community Outreach James Clark said thunderously into the microphone, Eddie's family surrounding him on the porch. "As long as we're killing each other, as long as we're disrespecting each other, we are not all right. ... Guess what? It's our responsibility to change it. We want to be able to turn the page."

Victoria Ryan-Bailey, a lifelong St. Louis resident, implored those present to "surround" and "love on" Eddie's mother, Rachel Kemp-Hill, and the rest of the family.

"This is our family," Ryan-Bailey said. "This is our neighborhood. These are our neighbors ... God knew that little soul who liked to smile and laugh and joke all the time."

At the behest of speakers, people in the crowd embraced the people next to them, offered "I love yous" to strangers and held hands in prayer.

Pamoja Preparatory Academy teacher Julie Orick walked up the porch steps to hug Eddie's family. Eddie was in the first-ever class she taught, she said.

"He was hilarious," Orick said, her eyes reddening. "He made everybody laugh all the time. He always put a smile on my face. And he was like my right-hand man — if other kids were acting up, he would always try to help me. And he was very smart ... we loved him so much."

Thursday morning, a "Young Lives Matter" event was hosted by nonprofit group Better Family Life to focus attention on the effect of gun violence on children.

Seeing more than a dozen white heart-shaped balloons, each one marking a child's death by gun violence in St. Louis this year, made Jeriece Westbrook clutch her two children a little closer on Thursday morning.

"I could never put myself in these parents' places," said Westbrook, 34, who lives in University City with her son, 9, and her daughter, 15. "You learn to appreciate every day."

Each balloon marked a child under the age of 17 to have been killed in St. Louis since January. The rally was the brainchild of children in the organization's youth leadership academy.

Around 150 children from about 5 years old to middle-school age participated in the event, holding signs and reciting personal poems. Aniya Sykes, 14, of Bellefontaine Neighbors spoke at the rally about how gun violence has affected her. Her brother, Michael Murphy, was 21 when he was shot to death in 2016.

"Being in St. Louis is really hard," Aniya said.

19-year-old camp counselor Daisha Robinson of Normandy voiced a similar concern while speaking at the rally, saying, "Growing up is hard, but growing up in my city is harder."

She said it's very important kids know their voices are supported, especially in the midst of the recent deaths. Now a student at Harris-Stowe State University, she wants her students to know they're no different from her.

"I was just them yesterday," Robinson said.

Caleb Camp, 21, of St. Louis has been involved with Better Family Life since he was 10 years old. As a camp counselor, he said it's important his children are taught gun violence prevention.

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"All the youth are connected whether they know it or not," Camp said. "They're all the future of the city and the world."

He added that Better Family Life is intended to help children reach their future. He lets his students know it's ultimately in their hands.

"You are in charge of your life," Camp said. "A program like this will lead you in the right direction if you need that direction."

Miranda Jones, vice president of youth, family and clinical at Better Family Life, said she's proud her students wanted to voice their concern about gun violence in St. Louis.

"There's no better feeling than to see them take the lead," Jones said.

Growing up in East St. Louis, Jones came to Better Family Life nearly 15 years ago to work with young people in St. Louis. She said change is what the city needs.

"We want to see a difference," Jones said.

With the  death Saturday of 14-year-old Ien Coleman, the number of child deaths by gun violence in St. Louis rose to 18 in 2019 alone.

Coverage of children who died in the St. Louis area in 2019

These are the local incidents of homicide or neglect involving children, based on Post-Dispatch reporting. This list doesn't include children killed in car accidents (unless a criminal charge was filed) or incidents not being investigated by homicide detectives.

Kennedi Powell and her neighborhood friends had just swarmed her father’s car for a piece of pizza Sunday evening when a white car drove past,…

Kristina Curry, 16, was found dead just before 5 a.m. Thursday on a rear parking lot at Roosevelt High School at 3230 Hartford Street, police said. 

Kayden Johnson, 2, and his mother Trina’ty Riley, 18, were found dead with gunshot wounds shortly before midnight in their home in the 5900 bl…

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