St. Louis remembers its young homicide victims in a candlelight vigil

St. Louis remembers more than 12 children killed since April, as residents speak out about gun violence in an emotional town hall. CNN's Ryan Young reports.

Posted: Aug 29, 2019 11:50 AM
Updated: Aug 29, 2019 11:50 AM

Rasheed Thompson rewarded his 8-year-old daughter's good behavior by letting her to go to a Friday night high school football game in St. Louis. She was killed when shooting broke out.

Jurnee Thompson was with her family when she died at the preseason game last week, St. Louis Metropolitan Police said. She is among at least a dozen children 16 or younger who have been fatally shot since April, police said.

"I don't want this just to be washed away. I want Jurnee's legacy to live on. Jurnee was a lover, a protector, a fighter," Thompson told CNN in an interview.

Thompson and other residents gathered at a vigil Wednesday to remember the lives of the city's young children killed in recent months. The killings have angered police, and residents, who have challenged each other to find solutions to reduce gun violence.

"St. Louis, we're all traumatized by the crime and the violence that grips the St. Louis metropolitan area," said James Clark, vice president of community outreach for Better Family Life, a community outreach organization. "We all feel the hurt and the pain every day of the week."

Clark told the crowd at Herzog Elementary School, "everything that needs to be said, has already been said."

"This is an hour for action," Clark said. "This is an hour where we must put all of our petty differences aside for our future, which is our children."

Not far from Clark, a young girl held a sign that said, "We Are the Future."

Police and speakers urged anyone with information on the shootings to come foward. The names of the dead flashed across an electronic screen. A local lawmaker read them out loud.

The victims

The youngest victim is 2-year-old Kayden Johnson, who was killed in late April along with his 18-year-old mother, Trina'ty Riley, police said.

On Sunday, 15-year-old Sentonio Cox was found dead from a gunshot wound. People carried balloons at an earlier vigil as his mother tried to encourage the teenagers mourning him.

"I hope ya'll hearts are mended,"Roxzyanna Edwards said, according to CNN affiliate KPLR. "And I just want ya'll to prosper and not be another victim like everybody else."

Clark said St. Louis and other urban communities face similar problems.

"In every urban core you have the same mentality that is on display in St Louis right now. In St Louis, we have a human capital crisis where you have men, women, boys and girls who have not been cultivated to care," Clark told CNN. "So, violence becomes a knee-jerk reaction."

He said his organization has a program that deploys outreach workers "who come from the neighborhoods who understand the culture, who understand the code" to communities.

"We've now got to empower them and give them the training necessary to go in, assess the problem and then we can build real time solutions," Clark said.

Mary Norwood, whose 7-year-old grandson Xavier Usanga, was fatally shot earlier this month, offered to help other young people.

"Xavier is gone, and I can't help him. But I'll try to help anybody else who is there who wants help," she said. "If you don't know what to do and you have the mind that you need some kind of help, get in contact with me."

Xavier was playing with his sisters in the backyard of their home on August 12 when two men shot at each other at a nearby street. The bullet went through his throat and grazed one sister on the elbow, the children's mother Dawn Usanga told CNN affiliate KTVI.

An 18-year-old man was shot but survived, the station reported.

In an interview with CNN, Xavier's sisters recalled how he liked Marvel superhero characters, like Venom. He like to play Uno and the online game Roblox, Trinity Usanga, 10, said.

"It's been really sad," she said. "I don't like walking to school by myself ... I would usually walk with him, and he would always make me feel safe."

Trinity said she thought Xavier was alive on Wednesday, watching television upstairs.

Federal prosecutors said a St. Louis man facing an unrelated federal charge admitted to shooting Xavier. He was not charged in Xavier's death, KTVI reported this month.

St. Louis Alderman Brandon Bosley, whose district includes Xavier's neighborhood, said it bothered him that children are dying at young ages.

"We can change an entire generation of children if we put the right resources behind them," he said.

An empty house

Thompson urged people to come forward if they have any information on his daughter's death.

"When a grown person or a teenager murders your 8-year-old child and you don't come forward, it's heart breaking," Thompson said.

He said he taught Jurnee and her sisters, ages 7 and 11, to "grab your sisters and you take cover" when they hear gunfire.

His house, Thompson said, just doesn't feel the same now after Jurnee was killed.

"Since Jurnee been gone, the house just seems like a ghost town," Thompson said.

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