The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

March 23, 2013

U.S. gun deaths shaped by race

(Continued)

Shanda Smith, who is black, has a different view of guns and their place in society. Nearly 20 years ago, her two children were shot to death on their way to a church Christmas party in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast Washington.

Smith, a single mother who never knew her own parents, remembers the new Scrabble game her children had opened two days before the church party. "I remember one of the words was 'peril,' " she said in a recent interview. "They didn't know it. I told them it means danger."

Rodney Smith, 19, was home on break from the University of Kansas, where he had a football scholarship. He had borrowed a relative's beat-up Camaro Z28 and was driving his sister, Volante, 14, and two younger children to the party. Boo, as his sister was called, was in the passenger seat.

As the car approached the church on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, someone ran up to it and fired a handgun at Rodney and Boo. Smith's two children were in body bags being loaded into an ambulance when she got to the scene. It would turn out that the Smiths were killed in a case of mistaken identity.

"They were right where they needed to be," Smith said of her children, "but somebody had access to a gun, and he shot the wrong kids."

Smith channeled her grief into a group called Survivors of Homicide Inc., where she works with others who have lost family members and close friends to shootings. Her favorite event is an annual Christmas party she hosts for children who have lost siblings or parents to shootings.

Smith's children were killed in 1993, when Washington had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. Even though rates have dropped dramatically, Smith knows many families that have suffered from gun homicides. But she said they don't buy guns as a solution.

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