Are the rash of child shootings an epidemic within the pandemic?

Gun violence is up in Georgia and across the country during the pandemic. But local doctors say they are seeing a disturbing trend. The victims are getting younger and many are children.

Channel 2′s Michael Seiden talked to a college student who was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital after a road rage shooting. “I’ve been shot! Someone just shot me,” said Amari Franklin to a 911 operator. She was scared and desperate for help. “My car can’t stop! I’m paralyzed! My car can’t stop,” said Franklin.

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The 22-year-old woman made that frantic 911 call in April 2021 after she was shot and paralyzed in a road rage incident along I-85 in Coweta County while headed home from work. “I felt like I was going to die in that moment. Like I actually seen my, I felt like I faced death in that moment, and it was really scary,” said Franklin.

Franklin had accidentally cut off a co-worker she didn’t know in the parking lot. “And like I didn’t see his face, but I can see his eyes and they were just really like cold and dark,” said Franklin.

The Clark Atlanta student was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital where since the beginning of the pandemic trauma surgeons have been treating gunshot victims at an alarming rate. “It’s unprecedented. The most troubling thing is just the sheer volume to be honest,” said Dr. Rob Todd Grady’s Senior Vice President of Acute Care Surgery.

Grady is one of the busiest trauma hospitals in the country. “We are seeing younger patients also,” Dr. Todd said. “When you see a 14 or 15-year-old that’s someone’s kid that let’s face it when they left the house that day, the parents aren’t thinking they’re going to get shot.”

It’s an epidemic within a pandemic. Numbers released by Grady show that from January of 2020 through July 1, 2021 ER staffers treated 1678 gun shot victims. The average age was 31 years old.

Channel 2 also checked with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Their hospitals have seen a 140 percent increase in pediatric firearm injuries since 2018.

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Dr. Todd worries video games have desensitized children to gun violence. “It’s really not a video game. The actions you take in the moment, they’re not reversing, the consequences are permanent,” said Dr. Todd.

Six months after Amari Franklin was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down, she said she’s making progress. She is about to begin more rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center, and she’s determined to walk again on her own. “I’m making slow progress by just thinking about movement. I can make my left big toe move,” said Franklin.

She has a message for the accused shooter who is in jail facing felony charges. “I continue to pray for you,” said Franklin. She also has a message for everyone about guns. “Stop. Put them away, it’s not worth it,” said Franklin.

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What is behind the surge in gun violence? Healthcare and mental health workers said the isolation during the pandemic along with the exposure of racial and economic inequality have added stress to people’s lives that have contributed to the surge.

Police said there’s been a lack of conflict resolution and in a lot of these cases the shooter and victim know each other. They said everyone from officers to teachers to members of the community will have to work together to find a solution.