Gun violence and kids: Shattered dreams, devastated families

In this undated photo provided by her family, Amaria Jones stands for a photo wearing her favorite color, purple. Gun violence is killing an increasing number of American children, many of them caught in crossfire. When a stray bullet pierced the window of a Chicago home in 2020, it hit and killed 13-year-old Amaria as she danced for her mother. (Jones Family via AP)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Gun violence is killing an increasing number of children and teenagers across America, leaving behind shattered dreams and devastated families.

Here are three of their stories:

SHAQUILLE BARBOUR, 18, OF PHILADELPHIA

Shineka and Joseph Barbour, of Philadelphia, laugh as they recall what a hurry their son was in to grow up, how he would draw a mustache on his face with eyeliner when he was younger, how he sometimes spoke in a fake deep voice.

They knew when the 11-pound boy was born that he was going to be a giant, so the couple named him after basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. Their Shaquille grew to nearly 6-foot-7, but they remember him as the little boy they nicknamed “mister” because he refused to smile at first.

“But man, when he did smile, it was just, it was something,” Joseph Barbour said.

Shaquille died after being shot 13 times on June 6, a week before his high school graduation, as he rode his bike home from the corner store. His family was having a get-together just a few feet away, and Shineka can’t shake the memory of her daughter trying desperately to hold Shaquille’s body together so they could get him to the hospital.

Shaquille had been planning to join the military, his parents said. At one time, he had been such a standout at football that neighbors thought he was destined for the NFL. He swore off the game after a boy he tackled had a seizure on the field.

“I know people say this all the time, but he really was a gentle giant,” Shineka said. “He looked so serious and he was such a big kid, but he was so affectionate and he just had this huge heart.”

She laughed, remembering how she and Shaquille got stuck at a traffic light not long ago. Two older women were crossing the street and hadn’t made it across it before the light turned green.

“He rolled down the window and yelled at them, ‘Look at you, still stopping traffic at your age!’” Shineka said. “They just laughed and did this little dance. It was so cute. And that’s who he was.”

No arrests have been made in Shaquille’s death, and police won’t discuss a possible motive.

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LEGEND TALIFERRO, 4, KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Little LeGend Taliferro had a lot of questions, and wasn’t one to take “I don’t know” for an answer.

“He asked a million questions and if you didn’t answer how he wanted, he’d ask more,” his mother, Charron Powell, recalled of her only child. “He was very smart. I feel like he was way older than he really was because he knew so much and he was so very inquisitive.”

By the time LeGend was 4, he had already been through a lot. The Kansas City, Missouri, boy was born with a heart defect that required surgery when he was 4 months old. Powell said her son would eventually have needed a second surgery.

But he didn’t live long enough.

On June 29, 2020, LeGend was visiting his dad because a new half-brother had just been born and LeGend was anxious to meet him.

“He called and talked to me and said, ‘I want to stay with Dad and my brother,’” Powell recalled. She agreed.

That night, someone shot through the window. The bullet struck LeGend, who was sleeping on the floor.

Powell was awakened by a 3 a.m. phone call.

“His grandma gave me a call and told me,” Powell said. “His dad and stepmom had rushed him to the hospital.” By the time Powell got there, her son was dead.

“I guess reality really didn’t hit me until the next day,” she said, quietly. “I finally realized what was going on. I just broke.”

Ryson Ellis is charged with second-degree murder. A probable cause statement said a sister of LeGend’s father, who was in the apartment at the time of the shooting, had a relationship with Ellis. Days earlier, she accused Ellis of assault. The accusation led her brothers, including LeGend’s father, to confront Ellis. The probable cause statement said that after the altercation, Ellis had been trying to find LeGend’s dad.

LeGend’s death prompted an outpouring of grief in Kansas City. Last year, a federal anti-crime initiative was named in his honor. Powell takes pride in the fact that Operation Legendresulted in hundreds of arrests for violent crimes.

Powell said her family bonds together, but the pain never goes away.

“We help each other as much as we can to get through it but it’s really a mental battle every day,” she said. “It’s really different to know he’s not here and I won’t hear his voice.”

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AMARIA JONES, 13, CHICAGO

Amaria Jones didn’t just love to dance, she choreographed her own moves and posted them on TikTok.

On the day before Father’s Day 2020, the 13-year-old was in the dining room showing off her new moves for her mom. Her brother and other teenage boys were on the front porch of their Chicago home when someone fired from a gangway across the street.

The bullet missed the boys but pierced a window, then a TV in the dining room. The shattering glass sent everyone in the house scattering, Amaria’s sister, Mercedes Jones, said. When they returned, they found Amaria on the floor.

“Everybody came back in and saw her reaching up with one hand on her neck, holding her wound, trying to say, ‘Mom,’” Jones said.

Amaria was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Fifteen months later, the shooting remains unsolved.

Mercedes Jones is 28 but she and her sister were close, despite the age difference. They were the only two girls among five children. Amaria was a homebody, but she loved helping her older sibling get ready to go out, and only called her “Sister.”

“She had the most energy,” Jones said. “She started dancing out of the blue. Her laugh — she had this funny laugh and it was contagious. She was so silly.”

Jones knows she’ll never get over the loss.

“I never thought in a million years my little sister would be killed by a stray bullet,” she said. “I know I live in Chicago and it’s a lot of violence, but I never thought that was possible.”

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