4 teens killed in 4 days: Guns are leading cause of death among kids 15-17 in Arizona, report says

The last several days have seen a string of 17-year-olds killed by gunfire in the Valley, and government data has found children dying by firearms continues increasing in Arizona.Firearms caused the deaths of 59 children in Arizona in 2022, according to the Arizona Child Fatality Review Team report. With 44 fatalities, firearms were the leading cause of death among those between 15 and 17, according to the report published Nov. 15 by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

These figures reflect an increase over three years. The report last year found 56 children had died of firearm injuries. The year before, for figures from 2020, the report found 51 children had died of firearm injuries, which was actually then the third-leading cause of death for kids.

"The biggest risk factor is access to firearms," said Dr. Mary Rimsza, pediatrician and chair of the review team. "The gun is most commonly owned by the child's parents. That's how they're getting access to guns."

Rimsza said the last decade has seen an upward trend of children dying by firearms.

Marking the majority of firearm injury deaths, homicides were 56% of the total in 2022, the review team's report noted. Deaths stemming from firearm injuries were 100% preventable, the report determined.

What we know: 7 teenagers arrested after fatal shooting of Casa Grande teen Hailey Stephens

4 teens killed in 4 days

Within four days, shootings led to the deaths of four 17-year-olds in the Phoenix area.

Just as recently as Sunday, 17-year-old Hailey Stephens died after being caught in gunfire resulting from a fight at a house party in Casa Grande. Jesiah Street, 18, and two boys, 16 and 17, are charged with second-degree murder. Another 17-year-old also was wounded in the incident.

Then on Tuesday, there were two additional shooting deaths where the victims were 17.Jamiere Jenkins was killed after being shot in the neck by a 17-year-old boy following an argument in San Tan Valley, according to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. The suspected assailant was taken into custody, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Later that night, 17-year-old Marc Leyva was gunned down in south Phoenix. No arrests have been made in that shooting.

A teenager was fatally shot Wednesday afternoon in the area of 43rd Avenue and Roosevelt Street in Phoenix, with two other teens also wounded. An arrest of a minor was announced by Phoenix police on Thursday, but the name of the victim has not been released.

Causes, prevention of kids dying by guns

An uptick in firearm deaths among children is being seen nationwide, according to Jesenia Pizarro, a professor at Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

"Unfortunately, this paradigm that we're seeing in Arizona is not uncommon," Pizarro said.

Pizarro said that since the pandemic in 2020, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. The trend follows a rise in gun ownership, Pizarro said. Recent research shows that the rise stems from people feeling less safe, she noted.

"Parents need to know what their children are doing when they're not at home," said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Brian Bower, pointing to social media use and potential references to firearm use or access.

Additionally, Bower said parents concerned about firearm use by their children should inspect their kids' rooms and their school backpacks. Bower also mentioned that keeping children safe from firearms involves parents knowing whether their kids are friends with people who may be of age to gain access to firearms.

Kaitlyn Packard (left) and McKenna Trujillo bring flowers to a memorial for Jamiere Jenkins near a park where he was shot and killed. The two were classmates and friends of Jenkins.
Kaitlyn Packard (left) and McKenna Trujillo bring flowers to a memorial for Jamiere Jenkins near a park where he was shot and killed. The two were classmates and friends of Jenkins.

Online resources offered for community

Students at Combs High School in San Tan Valley have experienced the grief involved in violent teen deaths. Jenkins was the second student to be killed in as many months, the first being 16-year-old Preston Lord during an Oct. 28 assault at a house party in a case where an arrest has yet to be made.

In response, the J.O. Combs Unified School District has created an online resource center for district parents to help their children manage their grief and trauma.

The resource center is for "parents who might be seeking something to help them equip themselves to have those conversations with their kids," said school district spokeswoman Kayla Fulmer.

So far, there has been no push from school district parents for action addressing gun safety or gun violence, Fulmer said.

Gun violence: 17-year-old killed in shooting in San Tan Valley

Republic reporter Kayla Jackson contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Report: Guns remain leading cause of death among kids 15-17 in Arizona