FOX13 Gets Real: The physical and mental impact gun violence has on children

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As COVID-19 spreads across the Mid-South, another public health crisis continues to make headlines. Gun violence. FOX13′s Greg Coy is digging into the heartbreaking data that shows the number of people killed in Memphis has increased while the pandemic also claimed lives.

This is a four-part series where families share their stories while FOX13 digs for answers on what needs to be done to end the killing.

If you have not watched or read the first part of the series, please click here before proceeding with this report.

Part three will air on FOX13 News at 9 on Monday, March 1.

Gun violence doesn’t have an age limit.

At least 30 children were murdered in Memphis last year, and more than a hundred others were shot and survived.

In 2020, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital alone treated a child for a gun-related injury about once every three days. One of those children is Terrion Fennell. The 17-year-old needs crutches to walk. They remind him of the day he almost lost his life near Beale Street the night of Nov. 23, 2020.

“When I heard the shot, I started running. But when I got shot, it just stopped everything — all the movement,” said Fennell. “I couldn’t hear no more. Then I fell, crawled to my play brother, and that’s when he was, like, ‘You hit?’ And I’m, like, ‘Yeah, bro. I am hit.’”

The bullet broke his ankle and tore through muscles and tendons. Fennell’s mother, Santanna Hardy, rushed to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital after a call no parent expects.

“I would’ve never thought that my son would be getting shot. As bad as I see it on the news, kids, my son was one of them. He was one of them, and I thank God that he is still here,” Hardy told FOX13.

According to data FOX13 obtained about Le Bonheur, the number of children treated just at its facility for gunshots has doubled in the last two years. In 2017, 100 were injured by gunfire. In 2018, doctors treated 67 victims of gun violence. In 2020, the number of victims took a frightening jump and reached 134. The victims varied in age, with the youngest at just 6 months old. The average age of victims of violence brought to Le Bonheur is 14 years old.

The injuries to the victims can be life-altering.

RELATED: Memphis sees record-breaking year of homicides in 2020

“More often but often, they lead to lifelong disabilities and death. So one of the things we’ve had a huge increase in is patients becoming paralyzed,” said Dr. Regan Williams, who is the trauma medical director at Le Bonheur.

“Most of these patients were not doing anything wrong. They were at their house. They were sitting at the kitchen table doing their homework. They were walking home from the park because the sun was going down,” Williams told FOX13.

Williams deals with the emotional consequences. Trauma social worker Wanda Keath focuses on the emotional health of the young patient and family.

“I also focus on what am I dealing with now. Not with how they got here. But how can I help the child and the family in this moment and moving forward? I can’t change the circumstances of what happened to get them here, but I can absolutely help them in the moment that they are here,” said Keath of Le Bonheur.

Mental trauma can leave lasting scars.

“We know based on a lot of literature that has come out in the last two years that that increases your risk of early death. It increases your risk for hypertension. It increases your risk for cancer. It increases your risk of mental illness, depression, and suicide,” said Williams.

A yearlong study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports that warning. The CDC found children who were victims of violence missed school due to safety concerns, had low academic grades, carried a weapon, were prone to being overweight, used drugs, and engaged in risky sexual behavior. It is a twofold challenge for Williams.

RELATED: Violent crime continues to be a problem in Memphis and Shelby County, up almost a quarter in 2020

“I can sew your wound back together and stop the bleeding. That is not the hard part,” said Williams. “How do I make you feel safe when you leave your house?”

Le Bonheur tries to reverse those trends locally by offering counseling services to the parents, letting them know to expect rough patches in their children’s mental recovery.

“With the family helping them to understand the child needs a safe place,” Keath said. “We also need to support the parent who also does not know how to support the child. And giving them the education and tools to say we are here. We are available. We are not judging you.”

Fennell is now judging his life, his future, and his choices.

“I really did change. I just mostly, like, be in the house now. I don’t even go out nowhere” said Fennell.

When asked if he considered himself lucky to be alive, Fennell responded, “Very lucky to be alive.”