Open Wounds - The Impact of Gun Violence in St. Louis

Megan Lynch
February 05, 2018 - 9:45 am
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KMOX

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Tragedies unfold in St. Louis every day. Lives ripped apart in seconds by a bullet.

Even if you don't suffer the trauma and grief first-hand, you can't escape the aftermath.

Today, KMOX begins a week-long series of reports, "Open Wounds: The Impact of Gun Violence in St. Louis."

We started by speaking with residents of our region and getting their thoughts on gun violence. Here are some of their comments:

"You look over your shoulder, you watch what you're doing."

"Coming to the city, kind of watch the neighborhoods we go."

"Half the time, I'm sitting out there I hear gunshots in my neighborhood. In Tower Grove East, it's a pretty big problem. I was born in the city; that's where I was raised. To me it sucks to say, but I'm used to it."

"I moved here from Walnut Park to get away from the gun violence and when I got over here to the south side, it's just as bad if not worse."

"Four years ago Father's Day, I was robbed at gunpoint. It still hasn't left me, yet."

Reporter: "When you hear people say, 'I won't come into the city because of the violence,' do you think that's ridiculous, or do you understand it? Resident: "I understand it."

Carjackings, drive-bys, armed robberies, rolling gun battles -- some people are numb to it, others live with apprehension and fear.

In the most brutal blocks of the city, residents like Charles Mayo say they go to more wakes than weddings, more grave sites than graduations.

"Either you get shot at or get shot," Mayo says. "Once you heal, if you don't die, it is gonna turn you into one thing. You're either going to be a shooter or a victim."

Mayo has survived a life in a part of the city that in 2017 saw more than 150 shootings and nearly two dozen killings.

"If you came to me at 17 and told me some cute stuff about being safe with my gun, I'm gonna blow you off, and I'm gonna to keep my gun, cause he's gonna blow me away."

Children growing up in these violent neighborhoods are traumatized by what they see and hear. And those who try to educate them must also handle the emotional baggage they bring to school.

Stephanie Merklin is a special education teacher at Farragut Elementary in St. Louis Public Schools. She says learning must, at times, take a back seat.

"What matters is that they understand that they're loved and taken care of. Once they know that, then they can learn what two plus two is."

Some of those who treat the physical damage to tissue and organs when bullets rip through bodies also live in the very city where the violence occurs.

"Nowadays, I'm afraid to walk out and empty my trash at night. I live in one of the most stable neighborhoods in the city," says Helen Sandkuhl, director of Emergency Room nurses at SSM St. Louis University Hospital.

Sandkuhl has three decades of ER experience. Her nurses may see six or seven gunshot wounds in a weekend, and she knows many think they are immune to what they see.

"To an extent we are compared to maybe a nurse that works on a pediatric unit or a nurse that works on a medical floor where they don't see the daily violence-related issues that come into the emergency department," Sandkuhl says.

In fact, some studies show as many as 33 percent of emergency department nurses have screened positive for symptoms of PTSD.

"People can say, 'I'm tough, I can take it.' There's a breaking point for everybody."

Tuesday on Open Wounds - The Impact of Gun Violence in St. Louis: Victims and all they've lost. Listen at 7:22 a.m. and 5:22 p.m. on NewsRadio 1120 KMOX.