Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, people have probably wondered what would happen if they or a loved one become infected and have to be hospitalized or worse. For tens of thousands of Americans, this has become a reality — and countless lives have been upended.
Even before the start of the pandemic, WhoWhatWhy had planned to show how another epidemic in the US alters the lives of families from one second to the next. By examining some of the shootings that took place in a single day, we wanted to demonstrate the brutal toll of gun violence.
On March 1, 2020, the threat of coronavirus still seemed distant. Across the country, some had to work, while others went to church, spent time with family and friends, or did any of the countless other things Americans usually do on Sundays.
For 13-year-old Malachi Lukes, however, March 1 was the last day of his life. And for his mother, it was the beginning of a lifetime of grief. Malachi was one of the many Americans who lost their lives to gun violence that day.
Gun violence does not just kill or hurt its victims. It affects families, friends, and even entire communities. On this one day, there were dozens of shootings across the country that left children, women, and men dead or injured, and forever altered many other lives.
To the lawmakers who fail to take action, the victims may just be names or statistics. But to those they left behind, they are sons or daughters, parents, and friends. Those not directly affected are seeing so many of these gun-death stories that they are becoming desensitized to the topic.
So what does one day of gun violence look like in the US?
Malachi Lukes had just returned to Washington, DC, from an early birthday celebration with his family in New York City. His presents were already waiting for him, but he never got to open them.
Those who mourn him will remember him for who he was, but they can never know who he would have become.
When Malachi and his friends were on their way to play basketball that Sunday, a gunman opened fire on the group. Malachi was shot in the neck and died soon after. The motive behind the shooting is still unknown.
“I have no words, I’m broken, really,” said Melissa Laws, Malachi’s mother, who could barely speak when she talked to the media.
Like so many family members of victims of gun violence, Laws said she hopes her son’s death will be “a wake-up call.”
His friends and family remember him as a teen who was “hilarious, intelligent, energetic, compassionate and loved his sister, brother and beautiful mama Melissa Laws so much,” according to a Facebook post of family friend Takiyah Johnson. Those who mourn him say they will remember him for who he was, but they can never know who he would have become.
Grieving families often face the hardship of paying for funerals they cannot afford; some are forced to start GoFundMe pages to pay for funeral services. Even when a shooting does not end in death, the hardships faced by families can be significant.
A friend of Malachi’s, whose name was not released, was also injured in the shooting. His family will have to adjust their lives, even if just temporarily, to tend to his needs. According to research, the average cost of an inpatient hospital stay for gun-related injuries is over $96,000.
Some cities and neighborhoods in the US experience more gun violence than others. In Washington, DC, for example, there were six other shootings that day. Even in places where shootings seem commonplace, the grief experienced by the families is just as devastating.
Malachi’s death and those of the victims described below illustrate the mark gun violence leaves on the United States every single day.
Two hundred miles south of DC, in Portsmouth, VA, two teens were shot that Sunday. One of the boys walked into the hospital with a gunshot wound in his torso; the other teen was dead when police arrived at the scene.
It was not until one week later, on March 8th, that Marque A. Mills turned himself in to police; his motives for the shooting remain unclear.
Although no family or friends of the two victims made statements to the press, one neighbor expressed concern for her own children’s safety.
“One of them kids could have been hit by a stray [bullet],” said Marielena Balouris, a neighbor of the 17-year-old who died. “These people in the bottom, in the top, in the front of the building could have got hit.”
“Every day we wake up and we see stories of tragic events, especially gun violence unfortunately, and most days we can breathe a sigh of relief when it’s not one of our loved ones.”
Hannah Morse of Cheektowaga, NY, also died on the first of March, following “an alleged total random senseless act of violence,” according to the Erie County district attorney. That morning had been a typical one for Morse. She went to her job at the 7-Eleven; around 11 AM, a man walked into the store and shot her. She was rushed to the hospital but did not survive.
Investigators said they found no connection between the victim and assailant. District Attorney John Flynn said it is believed the shooter had a history of mental illness.
Morse, a college student, has been described as a talented woman with a deep love for children. She spent many hours volunteering as a Big Buddy, a mentor for at-risk youth.
Many lives have been impacted by Morse’s death. Her parents lost a child, her boyfriend lost a life partner, her Little Buddies lost her guidance, and her aunts lost a niece and cousin for their kids.
One family friend, Colleen Young, shared the news on Facebook; she asked for prayers for Morse’s friends and family.
“The senseless tragedy that ended her short life last Sunday morning while she was trying to make a living could’ve happened to any of us who work at jobs interacting with the public,” Young wrote. “Every day we wake up and we see stories of tragic events, especially gun violence unfortunately, and most days we can breathe a sigh of relief when it’s not one of our loved ones. But then one day we are the ones who get that call. Hold your loved ones close guys. No one knows what tomorrow brings.”
The causes of gun violence are myriad: gang violence, drug dealing conflicts, drive-by shootings, police violence, domestic violence, accidental shootings, suicides… Sometimes, as in Morse’s case, there is no known rhyme or reason.
Columbus, OH, recorded seven shootings on March 1. Steve Gibson was among the victims. He was shot in the leg by a stranger following an argument. The identity of his assailant is still unknown. Though their consequences can be disastrous, shootings are often the result of such minor incidents.
So far in 2020, nearly as many Americans, about 10,000 have died from gun violence as from the coronavirus epidemic. Investigations into these crimes can last for months and often go unsolved, leaving a family to mourn without ever understanding who took the life of their loved one or why.
Among its peer countries, this is a uniquely American problem, one which many specialists have identified as a public health issue. Gun violence accounts for the deaths of almost 40,000 Americans annually.
Parents, friends, and loved ones of those who die sometimes try to create awareness because they understand the depth and magnitude of losing someone to gun violence.
Malachi’s mother, Melissa Laws, works at a community center to help at-risk kids. She plans to spend her life educating and raising awareness so that losses due to gun violence decrease.
Given the nature of her work, “a lot of children look to me for answers,” she said. For now, giving them an answer might be out of her reach, she says. “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from David Hunt / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).