Forty-two times during a 2½-year span, a child was killed or injured in an accidental shooting in Illinois. Among them were 16-year-old Kaylee Jacob of Effingham, who was shot by a friend playing with a stolen handgun, and Chicago first-grader Devon Lofton, who shot himself in the head with a gun he may have thought was a toy.
The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network analyzed the circumstances surrounding every accidental shooting death and injury involving children ages 17 and younger in the U.S. from Jan. 1, 2014, through June 30 of this year — more than 1,000 incidents in all. These are shootings in which children unintentionally shot themselves, other children or were accidentally shot by adults.
Using information collected by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan research group, news reports and public sources, the media outlets found the deaths and injuries are happening at a pace that far exceeds the scope revealed by limited federal statistics.
Among the states, Alaska and those in the South have rates of accidental shootings involving someone 17 or younger that far eclipse the national average of slightly more than three per million people. Illinois has the 29th highest rate, which comes in just below the national average. Here is a closer look at the issue in Illinois:
CHICAGO HARDEST HIT
Most of Illinois’ accidental shootings involving children — 30 of them — were in Chicago, where neighborhoods riven by gang violence are awash in guns. Eleven others were scattered throughout the state, from the Mississippi River town of East Moline and rural central Illinois community of Effingham to Marengo in the north and bigger cities like Peoria and Champaign.
A SPIKE IN THE TEENAGE YEARS
The majority of Illinois incidents — 32 of them — involved teen victims. That conforms to a national trend showing that these accidental shootings spike for children under 5 and then again during the teenage years. The teen victims, however, are less likely to suffer fatal wounds. In Illinois, 26 of the teen victims were wounded and six were killed.
MOST OFTEN IT’S A HANDGUN
Aligning with the national trend, most of the Illinois shootings — 22 of them — involved handguns. One involved a shotgun. In 18 cases, the firearm type was listed as unknown in the data.
IN THEIR OWN HOMES
Nationally, the shootings happened most often at the children’s homes, with handguns legally owned by adults for self-protection. In Illinois, 26 of the shootings, or more than half, occurred at the children’s homes or another residence. One was in a car, and 14 were recorded as taking place in a public area.
Devon Lofton, 7, loved playing basketball and drawing and coloring. While playing at home on a Sunday afternoon in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, the boy found a .22-caliber handgun that police said was brought into the home by an older brother. He accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with the weapon and died at a children’s hospital later that day in March 2016.
A few dozen family members and friends gathered the next day for a vigil, decorating the front porch with heart-shaped balloons and a teddy bear. One participant held up a picture the boy had colored and signed in black crayon.
Sixteen-year-old Kaylee Jacob was sitting in a car with a friend on the southern edge of Effingham, a rural town known for its classic cars museum and a nearly 200-foot tall steel cross at the intersection of two highways. On that evening in October of 2015, the friend, a teenage boy, was messing around with a .40 caliber Glock handgun he had stolen from a parked pickup truck.
He removed the magazine, pointed the weapon at his friend’s back and squeezed the trigger without realizing a bullet remained in the chamber. The high school junior was struck and taken to a hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. The 16-year-old who fired the shot pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to juvenile detention for a period of time not to exceed his 21st birthday.
“I never thought I would lose her so soon,” her father, Steve Jacob, told a judge at the sentencing. “I lost a piece of my heart I can never get back. I will never be there to walk her down the aisle. I will never be there for her first child. She will never get to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor, or a mother. She would have been a great mom.”