ST. LOUIS (AP) - A researcher from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the featured speaker, but it was the personal stories by parents of two shooting victims that held the attention of a rapt audience Wednesday at a St. Louis anti-violence summit.
The Safe & Sound forum at the University of Missouri-St. Louis was sponsored by the local advocacy groups Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice and Vision for Children at Risk. Organizers said they selected CDC consultant James Mercy as their keynote speaker to emphasize the need to treat gun violence as both a public health epidemic and a larger social problem exacerbated by poverty, unemployment and shoddy housing.
"The best way to stop a bullet is a job," said community organizer James Clark of the Better Family Life group.
The Rev. James Morris of Lane Tabernacle CME Church, candidly described his 22-year-old son's paralysis after a May 2012 shooting at a neighborhood birthday party.
"To have the doorbell ring late at night, answer the door and be told your son was host and is fighting for his life was something as a parent I hoped I would never experience," he said. "I never thought that kind of violence would come knocking on my door."
Morris said his son Damien Michael is paralyzed from the neck down and was unable to return to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, where he had recently completed his first semester before the shooting.
"At times, he feels like his life is over, what's the use?" Morris said
Pediatric nurse Peggy Gordon, who followed Morris, said her professional training was of little use when trying to keep her adopted son from a life of drugs and violence that began in high school in Philadelphia and ended with the 21-year-old's drug-related shooting death in Arizona.
"He was hunted down at 2 in the morning and shot five times in the back," she said. "Don't have your blinders on. I'm a nurse and couldn't figure it out."
Participants didn't speak explicitly about possible policy solutions, avoiding the contentious topic of gun control in favor of statistics on the financial and physical toll of gun violence. Locally, St. Louis Children's Hospital has treated nearly 800 children injured or killed by gunfire between 2002 and early 2013, said Mary Clemons, president of the women's social justice group. Thirty-five percent of those victims were younger than 15.
The topic of gun violence will be further explored at UMSL today, when the campus hosts a conference on youth violence prevention that will feature criminologists, experts on gang violence and others.