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Smaller US cities struggle with high teen gun violence rates

Rayquan Briscoe sits outside his home in Wilmington, Del., July 25, 2017. In November 2015 he was walking to an appointment with his probation officer on a drug conviction when he heard gunshots. Briscoe tried to run, but his legs failed him: He’d been struck in the back, just to the right of his spinal column. At 17 he was paralyzed from the waist down. (AP Photo / Allen G. Breed)

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Shootings in Chicago have captured national headlines, and for good reason: The city has among the highest rates of teenage gun violence in the nation. But where else in the U.S. are teenagers most likely to be killed or injured by gunfire? Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles?

In an exclusive analysis, journalists from the AP, working jointly with the USA Today Network, arrived at an unexpected answer: Except for Chicago, the places with the highest rates of teen gun violence in America are smaller and mid-sized cities – towns like Wilmington, Delaware, population 72,000. Syracuse, N.Y., Savannah, Ga., Trenton, N.J., Fort Myers, Fla., and Richmond, Va., all below 250,000 population, also made the dubious top 10. They are cities with pockets of extreme poverty that have been struggling for years to cope with exploding gun violence among minors.

In Wilmington,home of chemical giant DuPont and headquarters to many Fortune 500 firms, the rate of teens hurt or killed by gunfire is double that of Chicago: “It’s nonstop,just nonstop,” said the father of one murdered teen. “Around every turn, they’re taking our kids.” AP data journalists Meghan Hoyer and Larry Fenn led the analysis of 3½ years’ worth of shooting cases provided by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. The topic was important because the rate of teens being injured and killed by gun violence is not something the federal government regularly tracks.

Baltimore reporter Juliet Linderman,with significant assists from Albany reporter Michael Hill and Savannah correspondent Russ Bynum,picked it up from there. The three state reporters spent days on the ground in Wilmington,Syracuse and Savannah,painting a picture of desperate communities frustrated by cycles of retaliatory bloodshed. They found a younger generation that is resigned to accepting a fate of prison or early death.

In Savannah,a woman who runs a program that tries to intervene with young people recounted the story of one who had been shot three different times – all by age 14 – and still his mother wouldn’t enroll him: “To them,” she says, “it’s a way of life.” In a video from Syracuse,Hill introduces us to Quishawn Richardson, a 15-year-old who finds sanctuary at a boxing gym down the hill – but light years away – from the stately grounds of Syracuse University: “It doesn’t remind you of all the violence that’s going on outside,” he says.

Video journalist Allen Breed accompanied Linderman to Wilmington and produced a powerful video that illustrates the danger and despair,along with the difficulties the city is having in addressing the problems. Just as powerful were the photographs from Patrick Semansky in Delaware, Julie Jacobson in Syracuse and Russ Bynum in Savannah. The package also was enhanced with graphics from interactives producer Maureen Linke. Reporters from the Wilmington newspaper assisted and produced a sidebar about how recommendations from a 2015 CDC report on Wilmington’s violence had yet to be implemented.

As Hurricane Irma threatened the Florida Keys, people spent more time on the teen guns package than with any other AP content.

The project – the last installment of a three-part joint effort by the AP and USA Today Network – had strong engagement. The morning it moved,as Hurricane Irma began threatening the Florida Keys,people were spending more time on the teen guns package than with any other AP content. In its first 12 hours,it had 383 uses on AP customer websites and more than 4,400 page views on the apnews app. The mainbar or sidebars also won play on at least a dozen front pages. A hub directs readers and editors to the stories.

For their work revealing a surprising side of teenage gun violence in America,state reporters Linderman,Bynum and Hill,video journalist Breed,data journalists Hoyer and Fenn, and graphic artist Linke share this week’s Best of the States and $300 prize.

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