ST. LOUIS — At Clay Elementary School on Tuesday, students were greeted on the first day by their new teachers, a new principal — and grief counselors.
Xavier Usanga, 7, was fatally shot Monday outside his home nearby. He was to have started second grade Tuesday at Clay.
Police officers in cars and on foot still circled the family’s Hyde Park house on Tuesday morning. Neighbors visited to console family members — and share their own fears.
“We’re scared,” said Gracie Koenig, 20, who lives across the street from the Usanga family. “It was just kids in the yard.”
Xavier was shot just after 5 p.m. Monday. An 18-year-old standing nearby was injured. The two were in the backyard of the Usangas’ home, in the 3500 block of North 14th Street. Xavier’s death makes him the 10th child killed in a shooting in St. Louis this year, and at least the 17th in the metro area. City officials on Tuesday blasted the incident, demanded action and begged the public for help finding the shooters.
“Another child has been killed,” Mayor Lyda Krewson wrote on Facebook. “Please say something.”
Police Maj. Mary Warnecke, too, pleaded for witnesses to speak out: “There used to be a line: You don’t hurt a child,” she said. “And when a child gets hurt, it’s time to call the police. But that’s not happening.”
Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, called on city, state and federal leaders to act — to move city money from surplus funds to violence prevention, to pass a federal bill allowing cities to control their own gun laws, and to work with anti-violence groups to draft a local ordinance relating to gun purchases in the city.
“It is fully within the city’s power to change these circumstances immediately,” Reed said. “We have the tools to make effective changes — today. We do not have any more time to waste.”
And Alderman Brandon Bosley renewed his call to bring in the National Guard.
Xavier was the youngest of six children — and the only boy, said his 18-year-old sister, Precious Usanga. His oldest sister is 24.
To his family, Xavier was “God’s child,” his sister said.
He was the third son born to his mother, but the only one who survived. One born with Down syndrome died about 20 years ago from SIDS. Another boy was stillborn.
Xavier was born prematurely and spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit before he came home to join his sisters, Precious said.
During the past few Christmas church services, he has carried a replica of baby Jesus to the altar, his sister recalled.
“He was so afraid he was going to drop it, and he was so happy when he didn’t,” she said as she started to weep.
The family lost a previous home to a fire, but their church, the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, helped them relocate to a house across the street from the parish along 14th Street, Precious said.
Precious said Xavier was in the family’s backyard Monday with his 11- and 12-year-old sisters, Trinity and Angel, when shots rang out. Their father was inside the house.
“They got down on the ground, but when the shooting stopped, they were going to run toward the house,” she said. “Then they all got up to run to the house, and the shooting started again and that’s when Xavier got hit.”
Xavier’s grandmother, Mary Norwood, said she felt bad that she didn’t teach her grandchildren what to do when they hear gunshots the way she used to teach her own children what to do if they were ever in a house fire.
“I should have told them, ‘When you hear gunshots, don’t run, just get down,’ and ‘If they’re shooting at you, run side to side,’” she said, standing near her grandson’s house Tuesday afternoon.
Bosley, the alderman, said Xavier and his family were regulars at many community events. Xavier and his father recently attended a father-and-son camping event, Bosley said.
“They were the neighborhood’s children,” he said. “They were outside doing what kids do on a summer day right before school starts, enjoying the breeze and enjoying the weather.”
Bosley said he is struggling, as well.
“To be in the thick of it and personally know a child — who ain’t got nothing to do with this, a child you regularly buy water for, who you fist bump with — is dead,” Bosley said. “That’s so hard to swallow.”
He said Xavier and his sisters were regulars at his office and The Links Inc., a nonprofit social service agency that serves as a community center.
The agency’s director, Kimyatta Smith, said Tuesday that Xavier and his sisters spent every day through the summer at the center, using the computers, participating in the activities and listening to speakers. Xavier was the youngest to recently attend a presentation about climate change, she said.
“He not only wanted to ask all the questions, but he knew all of the answers,” she recalled. “He knew about the ozone and how pollution is damaging it. He was just a very bright child for his age.”
Janelle O’Dea of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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), self-inflicted accidental shootings or incidents not being investigated by homicide detectives.
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