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Children shot in Philadelphia bear the scars of our ineptitude | Helen Ubiñas

Bullets change everything — even if children are spared the physical injuries of having a hot piece of metal pierce their skin, lodging in their still growing bones.

The scene of a shooting at Stenton Ave. and. Tulpehocken Street, in Philadelphia, June 9, 2021.
The scene of a shooting at Stenton Ave. and. Tulpehocken Street, in Philadelphia, June 9, 2021.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

I find myself thinking a lot these days of Philadelphia children I don’t know, and may never meet.

Consumed, at times, by the details of what they have endured.

The 3-year-old boy shot in the right leg three times this past weekend during a triple shooting in West Philly that killed his father.

The 6-year-old boy left crying and asking for his mother after he was shot and his father was killed while sitting in a car in May.

The 9-year-old boy shot while in his own home that same month when a gunman opened fire into the family house in Philadelphia’s Olney section.

Another 6-year-old, this time a girl shot in June while playing with friends outside.

The 14-year-old shot two weeks ago while he sat at a North Philadelphia doughnut shop with his family.

The more than 150 kids 18 and younger who have been shot so far this year, patched up and thrust back into a world where they are expected to just go back to being kids.

But bullets change everything — even if children are spared the physical injuries of having a hot piece of metal pierce their skin, lodging in their still-growing bones.

In the Bronx recently, two siblings miraculously survived being caught between a shooter and his target on a city street. Horrifying surveillance video showed the 10-year-old sister wrapping her arms around her younger brother as the shooter fired bullet after bullet into the 24-year-old man steps away.

In Chicago, two children are now orphaned after their parents were attacked after a minor traffic accident at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Sofiya and Jayden’s father was shot execution style when he came to the aid of their mother, who later died. On Friday, Jayden turns 1.


Through no fault of their own, innocents are placed on a punishing path of pain.

What must it do to children, especially those barely old enough to speak the words of loss before trauma settles in like a permanent houseguest.

“The body keeps track with the trauma,” even if they may not have the words yet, said Emily DeCarlo, youth violence outreach program director with the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia.

And in turn, what must it do to our city, our society, when more and more of these children are left with scars that aren’t always visible?

Questions like those haunt Darcy Walker Krause, because she knows the answers aren’t always positive. Not without the proper care, and attention.

“We’re all trying to help, but it really is such compounded trauma,” said Krause, who is the executive director of Uplift Center for Grieving Children. “It definitely keeps me up at night, thinking what’s going to happen, how this epidemic will leave our city.”

Here in Philly, we don’t have to wait for an answer, do we? We know how this can go.

It’s there in the numbers. More than 1,000 shootings so far this year. More than 260 homicides.

It’s in the headlines and nightly news that report the latest losses somewhere between who won last night’s game and where to get the best cheesesteak.

It’s on the streets and in homes and schools, the consequences of untended grief and trauma.

There, in kids having trouble concentrating in school, which means a city with more dropouts and more underemployment than it otherwise would.

And there, in kids losing faith in social structures and government, meaning a city having less community cohesion than it otherwise would.

And there and there and there, kids living with fear, which for some will mean getting lost in the cycle of violence.

None of this is the fault of a child exposed to extreme violence during formative years. All of us bear the responsibility to mitigate the harm done to their young minds, and to our city.

“Their brains are in this constant fight, flight or freeze mode,” DeCarlo said of many kids in Philly.

But hey, that’s not our neighborhood, right? Not our kids. So, not our problem.

Plus, haven’t you heard? Kids are resilient! Maybe — with intervention and prevention and ongoing support — but really that’s a convenient way for adults to absolve themselves for their parts in inflicting or ignoring trauma.

I was glad to hear that the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia has been in touch with the family of the 3-year-old still recovering from wounds he suffered this past weekend.

I pray the family takes advantage of services that there never seem to be enough of to address deep-seated generational trauma.

I wish like hell that locally, public officials didn’t expect traumatized and terrorized citizens to be grateful for mostly repackaged efforts, and nationally, that we weren’t always playing catch-up on a decades-old problem.

But mostly I worry and grieve for the children, bearing the deepest scars of our collective neglect.