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Newtown Shootings Push Long Ignored Urban Violence Into Spotlight

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San Bernardino religious leader calls for prayer and change

By Chris Levister

Most people would agree that there are no easy explanations for the tragedy that unfolded on Friday, December 13 at the elementary school in Connecticut.

Twenty children died when a heavily armed man invaded Sandy Hooks elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and sprayed staff and students with bullets.

So when 6-year-old Emily and 7- year-old Tava Carvel, crawled into their parents bed early Saturday morning and asked, "Why do people shoot kids?" Wesley and Linda Carvel were speechless but not surprised.

"What do you say to kids who learned as babies to dodge bullets and look over their shoulders on the way to school," said Ms. Carvel.

On September 28, 2009 Emily and her young brother witnessed a horrific tragedy unfold in their impoverished, crime infested Los Angeles neighborhood when 4-month-old Andrew Garcia was gunned down in the middle of a gang battle as he was being fed in a parked car.

The gang member who fired six times with a shotgun, according to police and family members had a history of mental 'instability'. "Emily and Tava heard the gunfire. They saw the powerful images of Andrew's mother holding her dying baby," recalls Ms. Carvel. "They heard those unforgettable wails."

Each year, more than 25,000 children and youth under age 20 are killed or injured by firearms in the United States. According to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation "The Future of Children" Initiative, a majority of youth gun deaths are homicides.

Suicides account for about one-third of all youth gun deaths. Older teens, males, African American and Hispanic youth, and young people residing in urban areas are at particularly high risk for gun homicide; white adolescents, males, and youth living in rural areas are at highest risk for gun suicide, according foundation researchers.

Emily and Tava didn't know any of the children who perished at the hands of the Sandy Hooks gunman.

But says Mr. Carvel like millions of other people they're asking "Was God absent from our world on Friday?"

Moved by the tragedy on Sunday the Carvel family who now live in San Bernardino turned to faith.

At Showers of Blessings Christian Center boxes of tissues were placed strategically in each pew and on window sills. The altar was adorned with holiday Poinsettia plants and bouquets, one in the shape of heart, with a splash of red carnations cutting through the white ones. Emily and Tava lit a candle and placed 2 tiny teddy bears on the altar.

It was their way of dealing with questions unanswerable "in human terms," Mr. Carvel said.

The postcard-perfect New England town of Newtown, Connecticut is worlds apart from the gritty, crime infested neighborhoods of San Bernardino, Los Angeles and other urban American cities.

The majority of children who died at Sandy Hook were white, baby Andrew Garcia was Hispanic. Emily and Tava Carvel are African American.

Temple Missionary Baptist Church sits in the heart of one of San Bernardino's most impoverished and worst crime areas where the use of drugs, guns, and random violence is common place.

Veteran Pastor Dr. Raymond W. Turner spent time Sunday comforting children and adults alike. He said over the next days and weeks people of all stripes will be searching for answers. What to do in the aftermath?

"First we pray then we fight for change," said Pastor Turner.

"All too often when there's a horrific tragedy such as this we rush to blame, analyze, debate and churn out thesis to support any claims of understanding," he said.

"We cannot afford to continue to be desensitized to these types of acts. The growing culture of violence and traumatization is endemic in our poor communities and increasingly common in wealthier close knit communities like Newtown."

Pastor Turner was careful not to get tangled in the heated debate over gun control.

"When we talk about civil liberties and the right to bear arms I wouldn't ever want to see that taken away but we as a society, as a country need to put the intent of the 'human' framers of the Constitution's Second Amendment in perspective of the times," he said.

"What were their intentions? What types of arms? What was the purpose of those arms? Who should have access to say assault weapons and who shouldn't. Ultimately we must address protecting those that need protecting the most, which is our children."

"Unfortunately until we engage in a meaningful dialogue on this issue, there will be more Newtown tragedies and continued blood shed and suffering in our urban communities."

Studies show the list of psychological reactions affecting children of violence and trauma is long and grim: including hatred of self, profound loss of trust in the community and a breaking down of the inner and outer sense of security and of reality.

Turner's advice to parents? Talk to your children. Hug them. "For inner city kids, I think this tragedy will have an even greater impact. Many of our children feel safe at school but feel vulnerable going to and from school. We have to get them away from the constant media coverage and help them feel safe and secure.

Encourage them to pray and talk about their feelings. Let them know God is the ultimate healer," he said. "He's the ultimate comforter."

Don't try to figure out the "whys" behind what happened because you never will, said Linda Carvel.

As President Obama described at Sunday night's prayer vigil in Newtown, "There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other."

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