COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Monday’s shooting of 17-year-old Jayce O’Neal, allegedly killed by a 16-year-old suspect, is the latest in a worrying trend of increasing juvenile gun violence, according to an analysis by NBC4 Investigates.
Data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings across the U.S., reveals that every 3.4 days this year — roughly twice a week — someone in Ohio is hurt or killed by a bullet, with someone under 18 years old pulling the trigger.
O’Neal’s death was the 57th such incident in Ohio this year, according to GVA data, putting the state on pace to see 107 gun casualties inflicted by minors by the end of the year. That would be a 29% increase compared to last year (77) and a 55% increase from 2015 (48).
In Columbus, Monday’s shooting was the 11th gun casualty by a minor this year, according to GVA data. That puts 2021’s projected total on track with last year’s 23.
While other local juvenile crime statistics are not readily available for 2021, Franklin County Lead Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Gill sees firsthand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families.
“The economic devastation on families, the lack of support that families have had,” Gill said. “All of those kinds of stressors that come into all of our families’ lives.”
Those stressors, she said, can lead some kids to commit crimes. Gill also said she has recently seen an increase in filings to transfer juveniles accused more serious offenses to adult courts.
Data provided by Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Gary Tyack’s office shows that certain felony offenses charged to minors increased from 2019 to 2020. They include burglary, assault, murder and other weapons charges.
Gill said she has been speaking with other juvenile judges in Ohio and around the country about how to prevent children from getting involved in criminal activity. She believes community outreach is critical, and she praised the City of Columbus’ recent investments in youth programming.
“You can’t tell youth, ‘You are going to go to jail if you have a gun,’” Gill said. “They believe they need it for their own safety in their community at this point in time. And so we have to realize that and start to address that within the community.”