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'Lock these guns up': Detroit kids injuring, killing others with firearms spikes in 2023

Community members and DPD are fed up with children finding unsecured weapons
Posted at 8:15 PM, Apr 15, 2024

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Detroit police say it's a completely preventable problem in the city: children getting their hands on unsecured firearms and either injuring or killing themselves or others.

7 Action News looked into the numbers and found that in 2023, there were 120 fatal and non-fatal shootings caused by minors. With new safe storage legislation in place, the hope is the numbers go down.

Itterlee McNeil, 70, says she will never forget the moment her two grandsons were playing in her home near Schoolcraft Avenue and Southfield Freeway two years ago. On Feb. 17, 2022, she was making food in her kitchen when she heard a loud bang.

"He ran out the room and he was calling my name. He said, 'Grandma, he shot me,'" McNeil said. "That day, I’ll never, never ever get over.”

Itterlee McNeil talks with 7 Action News about being arrested and charged after her grandson found her unsecured gun and shot his brother.
Itterlee McNeil talks with 7 Action News about being arrested and charged after her grandson found her unsecured gun and shot his brother.

Her then-5-year-old grandson, Cartier "Carti" Walker, was accidentally shot by his 8-year-old brother after they found McNeil's legal firearm in a fanny pack under her bed.

“They might’ve thought it was a toy," she said.

Carti was alert and conscious as McNeil applied pressure to the area where he was shot while her other grandson called police.

Thankfully, Carti survived. McNeil was charged with two counts of second-degree child abuse by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. She was on parole for two years and ever since that day has a simple message to other gun owners.

“Lock these guns up," she said.

Video: What gun owners should know when it comes to Michigan's new gun storage law

What gun owners should know when it comes to Michigan's new gun storage law

Detroit Police Department Assistant Chief Charles Fitzgerald has been on the force for over three decades. He is the one usually addressing the public and press after these incidents happen in the city and has lost count as to just how many of these cases he’s been to.

“I’ve been to so many of these. Gun was on the nightstand, gun was on the kitchen counter," Fitzgerald said. “There’s no more excuses. It’s so easy now to get a gun lock.”

Detroit Police Department Assistant Chief Charles Fitzgerald talks with 7 Action News about gun violence related to kids finding unsecured weapons.
Detroit Police Department Assistant Chief Charles Fitzgerald talks with 7 Action News about gun violence related to kids finding unsecured weapons.

7 Action News looked into the numbers and found that in the city of Detroit in 2019, there were 53 instance of minors getting a hold of a weapon and either injuring or killing themselves or others. In 2023, that number jumped to 120.

“Takes one pull of that trigger to just destroy lives," Fitzgerald said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has prosecuted many of these cases including McNeil's. The cases that stick with her the most are when the children lose their lives over a careless mistake.

"These deaths were absolutely, completely and totally, 100% preventable," Worthy said. “I’m talking about people who leave guns on couches, under the bed, under the pillow. We had one on top of the Game Boy console in the room where the children played their video games, right on top of it.”

Kym Worthy
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy talks with 7 Action News reporter Ruta Ulcinaite about gun violence related to unsecured firearms around kids.

Worthy has worked with the state Legislature over the last few years to come up with safe storage laws to hopefully bring some of these numbers down.

These laws went into effect in February.

Depending on the severity of the crime, gun owners may face anywhere from a 93-day misdemeanor to a 15-year felony if a child takes their gun and commits different violent acts with it. The full laws including fines and penalties can be found on the state's website.

Detroit police and Worthy hopes these new laws remind everyone of the responsibility that comes with owning a gun.

"It’s sending a message to people that this is serious. That child that came into your house and left in a body bag because you didn’t do something very simple as a responsible adult, there are consequences to that," she said.

Cartier "Carti" Walker
An undated courtesy photo of Cartier "Carti" Walker.

Meanwhile, McNeil continues to be an active member of Stop the Violence Detroit. She’s held free gun lock events ever since her grandson was shot to educate others on her mistakes. The organization is hosting another gun safety event in May.

"This is a lesson learned and I speak on it to other people because it happened to me. What makes you think it won’t happen to you if you literally think you can just put a gun somewhere and think they won’t find it," McNeil said.

The Detroit Police Department delivers free gun locks to Detroit residents at their request and free gun locks can be found at every precinct in the city.