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Vigil for murdered children in St. Louis

Natalie Allen, 7, holds up a "Kids' Lives Matter" sign she made during a vigil for murdered children Wednesday at Herzog Elementary School in St. Louis.

Aug. 28, 2019. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Earlier this week, a student told one of our social workers, “I just lost my brother, and now I lost my best friend. I can’t take this … anymore.” Starting late last spring, we began to notice an increase in gun violence in St. Louis, more than the seasonal uptick when the weather warms. The trend continued. Four of our children died over the summer from gun violence, ages 7, 10, 11 and 16. Two more St. Louis Public Schools students died last weekend from gun violence, ages 8 and 15.

The death of 8-year-old Jurnee Thompson has received additional media attention because she was shot an hour after a district event at a restaurant a quarter-mile away from Soldan High School. Our public response has been limited, given that it remains an open police investigation, as do so many gun-related crimes in our community.

Whenever crime impacts one of our students, it is our practice to cooperate fully with law enforcement. Our safety and security team engages on a near-daily basis with various divisions of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and we are thankful for their partnership and efforts to protect our children. We join with them in seeking your support to help stop gun violence and solve these reprehensible crimes.

Monday morning, we sent crisis teams — a group of seasoned social workers, nurses and counselors — or emotional support provided by one of our community partners to 10 schools impacted by the violence that occurred the previous weekend.

The weight of this loss of life is heavy to all involved: school staff, counselors, social workers, police, neighbors, community leaders and, our primary focus, children and their families. It is hard to rise up under this weight, but we all must take a stand and report behavior that threatens the safety of children. Violence of any kind has no place in our schools or neighborhoods. What is happening to our young people in this community and in others across the country is unacceptable and must be addressed. Our children are not replaceable. Our children and this community deserve better.

At the beginning of this school year, SLPS joined with Better Family Life on the Neighborhood Net project, which provided extra sets of eyes at 225 bus stops in two hot zones in the city. Why? Because we have always worked with entities that present solid plans to protect and serve our children. We look forward to continuing to support that initiative and welcome others.

If you have an idea for how SLPS can partner with your organization to keep children safe, we welcome your input. Contact Volunteer and Mentor Services Director Ryonnel Jackson at 314-345-4577 or Ryonnel.Jackson@slps.org.

Additionally, the Board of Education is hosting a special work session at 6 p.m. on Sept. 5 at Vashon High School to gather input about how we can come together to tackle the issues facing our community. We hope you will join us.

I also encourage you to call St. Louis CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477 if you have any information related to the shooting deaths of 10-year-old Eddie Hall, 3-year-old Kennedi Powell, 8-year-old Jurnee Thompson, 2-year-old Kayden Johnson and 7-year-old Xavier Usanga. The organization is offering a $25,000 award until Sunday for information deemed to be of value. You can also call the SLPS Security Hotline at 314-241-7577 to make an anonymous report.

We can never do enough to protect our children. We welcome your ideas and partnership to create a safer world for our kids.

Dr. Kelvin R. Adams is superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools