SEATTLE, WA — The violence facing young people is on the rise from a number of sources, but gunshot wounds is now at the top of the list.
“When I was at Harborview, 75% of the kids in the intensive care unit were there after a gunshot injury,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, a Harborview Medical Center pediatrician and injury prevention specialist.
It's not that extreme every day, but it's happening too often.
Amount of children treated for gunshot wounds in recent years:
“And we’re on track to have more of those injuries this year,” said Dr. Ebel.
Through April this year, pediatricians at Harborview treated 15 gunshot victims.
“It’s a combination of assault and violence, suicide, and little kids who find things,” said Dr. Ebel.
In Tacoma, they’ve treated six children, through April at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and only four of them survived.
“Gun violence is definitely a public health crisis for our children," said Lindsay Finney, who manages the Children's Advocacy Center Pierce County, located at Tacoma's Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. "It’s the leading cause of death of children in America right now, having recently surpassed car accidents."
There has been an increase in the number of kids treated at Mary Bridge for gunshot wounds in recent years.
The hospital data shows 10 cases last year, and that number increased from prior years.
Through April 30 in 2023, emergency room and intensive care staff at Mary Bridge already had six patients. Two of them died.
The number of kids who need helping processing what they’ve experienced or seen, can get that help through advocacy center Finney manages. She told KOMO News they see 700 kids a year, all free of charge, referred to them through the courts or Child Protective Services (CPS).
“And it affects all kids and can affect kids from any background any neighborhood any Socio-economic status,” said Finney.
KOMO News went to talk with teenagers in Tacoma, to learn how safe they feel on a daily basis. 14-year-old Ian Sukys said she often has to take detours on the way to her bus stop to avoid people who don't look safe to her.
“I feel like they’re going to either attack me or try to yell at me or something like that,” said Sukys.
“It's just on the news, Instagram wherever, about tons of shootings all over the country and it’s pretty nerve-racking,” said Nathanial, a 15-year-old Tacoma high school student.
So the next question is what needs, must, be done to prevent precious young lives, from falling victim to gunfire. What can be done to keep kids safe?
“Securing firearms is an important step in preventing unrelated tragedies that children face," Finney said. "Unsecured firearms can lead to firearm injuries and/or death. Being able to safely secure those firearms is important."
Mary Bridge recently partnered with Tacoma police for a gun give-back program. During the event, people turned in 128 firearms and staff provided 50 lock boxes to keep weapons secure.
“When a firearm is allowed to enter into a home it makes the people in the home, less safe. Those are the folks most likely to be affected and it’s really raising the risk of suicide and self-harm,” said Dr. Ebel.
Next step they say is keeping lines of communication open.
“I really encourage families to think about seeing the level of stress and depression and anxiety and kids. We know that kids have moments of despair; they pass, they do. And the question then is what is accessible to you when you were thinking that the world is over for you in that moment? If you get something where you don’t get a do over, you know we don’t even get to see you at Harborview,” said Dr. Ebel.
Finney also suggests parents and guardians ask about weapons in homes where their children or grandchildren may be playing. The conversation can be very simple; just make it clear if the home contains guns, those weapons are securely locked away from children for the duration of their stay.