This series originated the night I took a shift on the breaking news desk.
It was April 1, a Monday. Omaha police had sent out a press release about arrests made after the Friday night shooting of a 13-year-old boy.
I prepared to write up our standard news brief, a few paragraphs. Non-fatal shootings are relatively common in Omaha (100 victims last year; 24 victims through May of this year), so they typically don’t get much attention. We usually summarize just the basics.
The public hears more about homicides. Gun-related homicides numbered 22 last year. There have been five gun homicides through May.
But the boy’s age hit home. My daughter is 13. It was impossible to type that number and not think of just how tender and young that age is.
Then came the mug shots of four of the five suspects, and those faces stopped me, too. One was a young woman whose wide-eyed expression made her seem younger than her 18 years. The three young men, ages 18 and 19, also looked more like boys than men.
The fact that the fifth suspect was a 16-year-old juvenile drove home the point: These were young people caught up in a mess of felony charges, all tied to one single, stupid shooting.
It made me wonder what confluence of circumstance and choice led the paths of the five suspects and the victim to cross. So I began to ask around and look at records and interview people.
Coincidentally, this occurred against the backdrop of a public policy debate over whether, where and how to address juvenile justice needs in Douglas County, and whether to build a courthouse annex and a new, smaller juvenile detention center in downtown Omaha.
The matter goes to the Omaha City Council Tuesday for a public hearing. A vote is planned for later this month.
This series does not explore the merits of the current juvenile justice system or the building proposal. Instead, over the next three days, you’ll read the human stories behind a sad and often invisible occurrence — one that sends people to hospitals and jails, and upends lives.
Today, we focus on the victim. On Monday, we look into the backgrounds of the five suspects. The last installment, on Tuesday, will explore steps the community is taking to address and prevent gun violence.