INDIANAPOLIS — A shooting late Monday night that left a 10-year-old boy injured by a stray bullet is the most recent case to involve a victim under 18 this year.
Since the start of 2021, more than 75 children or teens have been injured in shootings across Indianapolis.
When the police lights fade and the news of another incident moves into the headlines, those injured by gunfire who survive are still left to recover both emotionally and physically.
“We see these things on the news so often and we hear that they survived, and we tend to move on without knowing that’s just the beginning and it can take years to recover,” said Caroline Mathis, clinical supervisor at Legacy House and Eskenazi Primary Care.
Toni Olive said she knows that pain all too well. It was on October 16, 2015 when her life changed forever. Her son, Richard White Jr., was shot six times and suffered life-changing injuries.
“It left him paralyzed from the waist down, but it didn’t take his joy from him. He still was trying to do for others and most of all, for his daughter,” Olive said.
For five years, Olive said she stood by her son as he worked to conquer new obstacles, like learning to drive again. In November of 2020, one day before his 29th birthday, White took his final breath.
“I brought my son into the world, and I was determined to keep on taking care of him and I did that until he left here,” said Olive. “I was my son’s caregiver. I took care of him even when he was in the hospital from ICU to rehab.”
Although White wasn’t a child at the time of the shooting, Olive said, he was her child. For five years she experienced firsthand the lasting impacts caused by gunshot injuries, from physical to emotional trauma, and she understands what families of survivors experience with their loved ones.
“His spirit always was so high, but just to see someone innocently shoot a person then you’ve gotta watch this person’s whole lifestyle change, it’s hard,” said Olive. “It’s hard enough watching your loved one cry to you and ask why. Why did this have to happen to me mom?”
Olive said she leaned on the services she was connected to through Purpose 4 My Pain, which helped her family navigate the unknowns. They were even by hers and her son’s side as his shooter’s case went to trial.
Now, Olive volunteers with Purpose 4 My Pain, helping others who have found themselves in the shoes of having a loved one impacted by gun violence.
“If you just need someone to talk to, we’re here. We’re here. You’re not in this alone,” said Olive. “What hurts me the most when it’s kids. You have lived your life, leave these babies alone.”
Olive said she recommends anyone whose child has been impacted by gun violence reach out to an organization that can help put you in touch with services necessary to begin working through trauma and coping with the pain caused by these crimes.
“Reach out to our organization and not just our organization, there’s other organizations out there,” she said.
Another one of those is Legacy House, which provides free, trauma-informed care that focuses highly on counseling.
“Something that we do know is when a child is exposed to violence, witnesses violence or even is a part of violence themselves like they’re being shot, this has a huge impact on their lives and it can shape it for years to come even into adulthood,” said Mathis.
Mathis said children who experience this significant of a level of stress in their lives have a greater risk of substance use and abuse, developing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Along with that can come impactful symptoms like flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, lack of focus and hyperactivity, she said.
“It’s not just counseling for the child, but counseling for the whole family,” said Mathis. “Violence and stress in child in childhood can erode physical health, have impacts on social and developmental issues and can have a huge effect on mental health.”
Mathis emphasized, while seeking help as a victim of a violent crime is important to healing, it is also important for those indirectly affected by a crime, like family members, to also seek help.
“It’s important for families to know exactly how they can help their children, how they can provide trauma-informed environments and even talk to the other adults around them like the schools, coaches and mentors about how the child needs to be treated and what they need in order to be successful and overcome these barriers that happen when we experience violence so young,” said Mathis.
Additionally, Mathis said it’s important to normalize seeking counseling and why it is so critical to understanding trauma and how to cope with it.
“To be able to begin to be able to educate ourselves around what is a natural, normal trauma response can be really empowering and sometimes just seeing help by calling a place like Legacy House or calling their counselor or a trusted person to talk about it, can help normalize some of what they’re experiencing,” Mathis said.
Because the impacts of trauma don’t disappear right away and for some, it could be a lifelong pursuit to work through it, both the Legacy House and Purpose 4 My Pain say it’s a road you shouldn’t walk alone. Anyone in need of assistance is encouraged to reach out at no cost to either organization.
“Talk about it. Like I said, I cry many nights. I smile, but I’m hurt,” said Olive. “We have to come to some type of solution and only thing I can tell a mother, a brother, a sister, a father. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.”
She also has a message for those who are committing these crimes that are not only changing lives but taking people away from their loved ones.
“Just please stop. Put them guns down, just stop. Think about your family. Think about if it was your child, your brother, your sister, your loved one,” said Olive. “How can you sleep at night knowing that you did this to somebody’s kid?”
“We shouldn’t be living like this. We should have more love for each other,” Olive said.