The massacre in Newtown has sparked a national debate about gun control. But usually, when a child falls victim to gun violence, it’s not in a comfortable suburb, and its coverage is confined to the metro page. At New York Public Radio, our producing station, reporter Kathleen Horan’s current assignment is to profile every child killed by a gun in New York City. Her series is called In Harm’s Way. Kathleen talks to Brooke about her project.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: The massacre in Newtown sparked the current debate, but usually when a child falls victim to gun violence it's not in a comfortable suburb and its coverage is confined to the Metro page. At New York Public Radio, our producing station, reporter Kathleen Horan's current assignment is to profile every child killed by a gun in New York City. Her series is called, “In Harm’s Way.” In September, she profiled Kaiim Vieira, a 17-year-old Queens teenager, who died after being shot multiple times in an altercation.
KATHLEEN HORAN: Less than three miles and 14 years apart, Kaiim was shot and killed, like his father, on the streets of Brooklyn. Tyre blames herself.
IASIA TYRE: My son became another statistic, and that was something I said he would never be! My son would not be a statistic.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Horan says everyone sees these deaths on the news, but the stories all look the same.
KATHLEEN HORAN: You see the picture of the yellow police tape. You see that the kid had a record or was shot in the head or was part of a gang or was killed by masked gunmen. What aren't they saying? Even if all of those details are true, this kid had a parent who is a social worker, or this kid wanted to be a marine biologist. This kid was a tough guy, but his mom washed his face.
KATHLEEN HONAN: Even though he was the master of his own style, stood five-foot-ten and wore size 13 sneakers, he wasn't too big to be babied.
TIFFANY ORR, RONALD’s MOM: He would let me but then he would get mad, like if his brothers is around, because if they have a argument, they would say, that’s why Mommy brushin’ your teeth. [LAUGHS]
KATHLEEN HORAN: The things that I'm surprised about, I flag those things and I, and I think, okay. You know, you’re going in search of a person you'll never meet, so you just try to talk to the people that can help you construct that person.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How’d you get picked for this assignment?
KATHLEEN HORAN: Our criminal justice reporter was leaving, and I had already been in discussions with our news director that I would possibly be working on this project. And then also I've done a lot of different obituaries and profiles of people that have died. There's something about endings and me, I guess. You know, having that beginning, middle and an end, there is something, as a reporter, that's very rich about that. And it can be, obviously, sad but there are so many possibilities.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are there any common threads that leap out from these stories?
KATHLEEN HORAN: The common threads you'd find in those statistics: They’re young, black and brown men, usually. They’re also usually murdered by young black or brown men. Most of the kids that I've profiled lived in public housing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you want to make sure they're not a statistic. Nevertheless, some of the kids that you’ve profiled have had some involvement with crime or with gangs. How do you address that, without distracting listeners from the story of the individual human being?
KATHLEEN HORAN: Well, there's the facts and then there's the essence. There's that thing that made them different than any other kid. Even if they're in a gang or even if they had an arrest record, there are still so many details that you just wouldn't expect.
SHIKARA GRANVILLE, XAVIER’S MOM: He’s in the shower ‘sleep.
KATHLEEN HORAN: How does that work? How do you sleep in the slower?
SHIKARA GRANVILLE: He sits down and he runs the water.
MAN: Yes, he does, every –
SHIKARA GRANVILLE: Every morning!
KATHLEEN HORAN: It was that passion for water that made him want to become a marine biologist.
SHIKARA GRANVILLE: He always used to look out this window: “There’s a swan in the wood, look how big that swan is.” I think everything was like more amazing to him. He wanted to study about it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kathleen, we’ve known each other for a decade? This summer, maybe early fall, you had just started this project and you were telling me about it very calmly on the subway, and then you just fell apart. How do you deal with the pain?
KATHLEEN HORAN: I'm still figuring that out - by taking them one at a time. It's such an assignment that I feel so - glad to be working on, it’s so powerful for me, not just as a journalist but as a human being, that it's worth the kind of process that I've been going through. And I think maybe I'll get better at dealing with it.
KATHLEEN HORAN: She says when she got to Brookdale Hospital, Ronald was in surgery, and within a few minutes she was informed he was dead.
TIFFANY ORR: I was so angry, so hurt. Like, who would do that to my child? [CRYING] He’s not that kind of kid. Nobody understands what I’m going through. I’m hurt. My heart is hurt!
KATHLEEN HORAN: A month before Ronald was shot, Orr says she called the City Housing Authority. She was worried about her children’s safety and wanted a transfer, but says she was denied.
KATHLEEN HORAN: I think that trying to piece together who these people were, as best as I can, and I go and I sit with their parents and I walk the streets that they walked, and I go into their bedrooms, and I talk to the people that loved them, it’s just hard not to have them pass through me a little bit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you have another one you’re working on right now?
KATHLEEN HORAN: I do. I’m not sure the mother wants to participate, so this is the first time that that's happened. But it makes sense. Not everyone's going to want to participate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Where was he?
KATHLEEN HORAN: He was on the Lower East Side. We've talked briefly. She said she was with him. They were talking, they said goodbye. In the time it took her to get to her car, in ten minutes, he had been shot across the street from, from their housing complex. She's really angry.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thanks, Kathleen.
KATHLEEN HORAN: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kathleen Horan covers criminal justice for WNYC. Since we recorded that interview, the mother that Kathleen was hoping to interview agreed to speak with her. You can find a link to it on our website.