NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
In the first few months of 2022, several children in and around Houston have either been wounded or killed during gun incidents in which they were the unintended victims. Many of the shootings occurred during road rage episodes, drive-by shootings and at least one accidental firing of a gun.
The violence was compounded by the shooting of two 9-year-old girls in separate incidents within a week of each other in February.
One of the girls, Arlene Alvarez, was fatally shot on Valentine’s Day when a man allegedly opened fire on the vehicle she was in with her family. Investigators said he mistakenly thought a suspect who robbed him at a drive-thru ATM moments earlier was inside the Alvarez family SUV.
Children in and around Houston have increasingly become victims of gun violence in recent months. Arlene Alvarez, Ashanti Grant, both 9, and Darius “DJ” Dugas, 11, were all shot in February in incidents where they were not the intended victim, police said. Alvarez and Dugas both died from their injuries and Grant remains hospitalized. (KRIV // GoFundMe/ NaTasha Grant // KRIV )
Alvarez was the oldest of three children – she had two brothers, ages 7 and six months – and always liked to work with her parents, her mother Gwen Alvarez told Fox News Digital. She described her daughter as a caregiver who wanted to be a “little nail technician.”
The death has left emotional scars on her and her children, she said.
“There’s always a certain time at night where I fear being outside because of what happened to us,” Alvarez said. “I feel like ever since Arlene’s passing, there are more and more shootings. Every night I feel like there’s always a headline story that somebody got shot or road rage. It’s getting out of hand.”
Many other child victims in the region have been shot at or near apartment complexes as they go about normal routines like playing in a courtyard or walking home with a parent.
“These types of incidents seem to be really kind of targeted and clustered in areas where we have seen increases in homicides generally,” Beth Gilmore, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work at the University of Houston-Downtown, told Fox News.
One of the more recent shootings involving young victims occurred on March 17 when a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed while in a vehicle on Interstate 610. Another boy in the vehicle, also 13, was shot while a third was unharmed, police said.
The boy who was killed was identified by his family as Joseph Jimenez, Fox affiliate KRIV-TV reported. They told the news outlet they believe the shooting was an incident of road rage, but authorities have not determined a motive, a police spokesperson told Fox News.
Nationwide, children are dying or being injured from gun violence more often. In 2021, more than 1,500 children and teenagers were killed by firearms compared to 1,381 in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun violence incidents.
As of Monday, 429 children and teens have died this year in gun-related crimes and other incidents, the nonprofit said.
Hours before Alvarez was shot and killed, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner and Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with the public for help in catching those responsible for the Feb. 8 shooting of Ashanti Grant, also 9.
Grant was in an SUV with her family when she was struck by a bullet in an apparent road rage shooting on a Houston freeway, police said. No arrests have been made in that case and she remains hospitalized.
“No child should be in a hospital because some stupid person decided to fire a gun,” a frustrated Turner said during a news conference
Officials have not given a clear reason why children are falling prey to gun violence.
On the same day Grant was shot, a 13-year-old was shot by another teenager. The child was taken to a hospital in stable condition and a 16-year-old boy has been arrested. One mid-February shooting at a Houston apartment complex injured a 4-year-old boy who was shot in the leg while playing in a courtyard.
On Feb. 4, Darius Dugas, 11, was shot and killed in northeast Harris County when he went to fetch his jacket from his mother’s car in a parking lot. A 19-year-old suspect identified as Daveyonne Howard was caught breaking into a car and began shooting at the owner of the vehicle, who was chasing him in an effort to recover his stolen property, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said.
One of the bullets struck Dugas, killing him, authorities said. At the time, Howard was out on bond for aggravated robbery, the sheriff’s office said.
In January, several children were injured from gunfire in separate shootings. A 7-year-old boy was injured in the leg when he was wounded at a southwest Houston apartment complex. On Jan. 17, two brothers, ages 1 and 6, and a man were shot but survived. At the start of the year, a 4-year-old girl identified as George Floyd‘s niece, Arianna, was shot when several bullets came flying into her Houston apartment, police said.
In the last three months of 2021, the city reported multiple child victims of gun violence, including a 7-year-old boy shot in the head, an 11-year-old girl shot multiple times by stray bullets, and separate drive-by shootings that injured a 1-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl.
A 10-year-old boy was killed in an accidental shooting on Oct. 28 when he and his 11-year-old cousin went to his mother’s car to get something and found a gun inside, police said. The kids were playing with the weapon and the child was shot, authorities said.
Experts say because children are almost never the intended victim, shooters are possibly opening fire indiscriminately and the young victims are getting caught in the crossfire.
“The shooter is reckless as to the consequences and they may not know that an innocent child is there at the premises or in a car, and they’re just determined to shoot their target,” Marc Levin, a Houston resident and chief policy counsel on the Council of Criminal Justice, told Fox News. “They’re not really taking any precaution as to whether there’s a child in the way.”
The suspected shooter in the Alvarez case, Tony Earls, 41, has been charged with aggravated assault with severe bodily injury. After bHe appeared at a news conference where his wife commented on his actions.
“We didn’t know if we’d get out alive. My husband did what he could. Without this man trying to rob us, we wouldn’t be in this position,” Deyonna Hines said in a statement on his behalf. “The lives of two families have been forever altered by the poor decision of a man who is still on the streets.”
A robbery suspect is captured jumping a fence in Houston on Feb. 14 after robbing someone at gunpoint moments earlier. The victim allegedly fired at a vehicle and fatally shot Arlene Alvarez. (Houston Police Department )
Amid the increase in gun violence, city leaders and law enforcement officials have promised to address the issue.
Earlier this year, Turner unveiled “One Safe Houston,” a $44 million crime reduction initiative. The effort focuses on four areas: violence reduction and crime prevention, crisis intervention, forming partnerships with communities, and youth outreach.
At the time, he acknowledged the impact of violent crime in a tweet, saying residents have felt like the city was “under siege.”
“I don’t remember Houston being like this when I was a kid,” Gwen Alvarez said.
The uptick in violence largely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and experts initially cited the financial and mental stress from the upending of daily life, a reckoning of the history of racism, and instances of police brutality as possible factors in the crime surge following years of relative peace.
In 2021, the city saw a 17% jump in homicides compared to 2020, according to police data.
“There’s just been this big shift as a result of a lot of things,” Gilmore said of the crime spike. “Something different has definitely happened.”