Xavier Usanga was supposed to start second grade Tuesday. Instead, grief counselors were consoling his would-be classmates at Clay Elementary School, after the 7-year-old boy became the 11th child killed by gunfire in St. Louis since June.
Xavier was shot Monday afternoon while standing near a teenager and two other children on the city's north side. An 18-year-old also was shot and critically wounded. He is hospitalized in stable condition. A 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were unhurt.
No arrests have been made but a gun was found at the scene. Police have not released any further details, including whether it is believed that the victims knew the shooter.
"This little kid would have been starting school this week," Police Chief John Hayden told reporters at the shooting scene Monday, his voice breaking. "He's not going to be able to do it. And it's not right."
FBI statistics show that St. Louis has had among the highest murder rates in the nation for several years. This year is no different. The city has recorded 121 homicides in 2019, a pace that would exceed last year's total of 186.
Xavier was black. Police statistics show that 107 of the 121 victims were black in a city that is nearly evenly split between blacks and whites. Ninety-two of the 121 crimes remain unsolved.
The victims seem to be getting younger.
Police believe that many of the children shot over the past three months were bystanders caught in crossfire or standing near targeted teenagers or adults.
James Clark of Better Family Life, a St. Louis non-profit that seeks to de-escalate gun violence, said some neighborhoods in the city "have become war zones."
"I'm sure that the children are not targeted, but the disregard for a child's life is there," Clark said. "We are living in an era where either we're going to address crime and violence directly, or it will continue to fester."
St. Louis isn't alone in seeing an upturn in gun violence involving children. On the other side of Missouri, 8-year-old Brian Bartlett died and his mother was seriously wounded late Saturday when someone shot dozens of bullets at their Kansas City home. Kansas City has reported at least five children killed so far in 2019.
A study in December in the New England Journal of Medicine found that death by gunshot was the second-highest cause of death in the U.S. in 2016 among people ages 1-19. The study looked at death certificates from 57 jurisdictions and found a 28 percent increase in the rate of firearm deaths from 2013.