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11 years old: Charnija Keys

Charnija and her mother, Jessica Bailey, had just gone to bed on the night of June 10, at their home in the 1500 block of North 20th Street in the Carr Square neighborhood.

Bailey, 31, awoke to the gun shot. Charnija had picked up her mother’s 9 mm pistol from beneath the bed and accidentally shot herself in the head, Bailey said.

Bailey bought the gun at a pawn shop for protection. Two masked men in May tried to snatch her purse as she was walking to a bus stop downtown after work. She had warned Charnija never to touch the gun, but “she was just a curious kid.” She speculated that her daughter’s interest might have come from playing hours of Fortnite, a popular video game.

“That was the first time that gun was fired,” she said. “I wish I would have put it up. I wish I would have never got it. I blame myself every day.”

Police seized the gun and are still investigating the shooting.

Charnija was a fifth-grader at George Washington Carver Elementary School. Bailey described her daughter as an adventurous tomboy who loved riding her bike and wrestling with her cousins.

“Everybody loved her,” Bailey said. “She was the happiest kid in the world. I miss her so much.”

Thirty-one days after Charnija’s death, Bailey gave birth to a son, Pasquale.

I am consumed with the dozen plus murdered children this summer, and I search for common threads.

Do they all live in the same neighborhood? Did they live in two-parent homes? What time were they killed, and what were they doing?

In my search for answers for these terrible cases, I found one. Charnija Keys, 11, who was shot June 11. I believe her death could have been prevented.

A loaded gun should never be in reach of a child. Never. Charnija’s mother was afraid; she believed a gun would protect her. She showed her daughter where the gun was and told her not to touch it.

When I served on the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund Board, I urged them to address this issue, but they said no. Instead, they chose other concerns that certainly were important. They also said no to recommending a law to require weapons be kept under lock and key, and add the issue to our media campaigns.

The government requires a test before you can legally drive a car. Why not do the same with a gun? Charnija’s mother was allowed to take home two babies without any proof that she had the knowledge to keep them safe.

Charnija shot herself. But we allowed it to happen by our indifference, our fear of shedding light on this issue and our lack of commitment to educate parents.

This was one case in which we could prevented a little child from dying.

Susan E Block • Clayton

Retired Judge, St. Louis County Family Court