A version of this piece was orig­i­nally pub­lished in Focus on the Family’s news pub­li­cation The Daily Citizen.

“I Can’t Breathe”

It is a plea you all know. “I can’t breathe” were the final words that 46-year-old George Floyd gasped before he was mur­dered by a policeman on May 25. These words, right­fully, have burned them­selves into the minds of mil­lions around the nation.

But did you con­sider the cry of 3‑year-old Mehki James, “It hurts! It hurts!”? Innocent Mehki was one of the protest victims who died on Father’s Day weekend in Chicago when a bullet struck him in the chest and killed him.

Did you hear 8‑year-old Sec­oriea Turner cry out in pain for her mother when a neighbor opened gunfire and killed her? Did you hear the sobs of Natalie Wallace’s grand­mother as she beheld the body of her 7‑year-old grand­daughter lying dead in her backyard?

Did you hear 11-year-old Davon McNeal’s body hit the con­crete when he was gunned down outside his aunt’s house?

Perhaps we are all asking the same question Davon’s grand­mother is asking: “When they catch these guys, I would like the oppor­tunity just to ask one of them, why?”

Why indeed? Yes, it has been dif­ficult to dis­tin­guish legit­imate, pas­sionate protest from rioting, anarchy, and random vio­lence over these last few weeks. But the parents and loved ones of these children know this for sure: Things have gone too far. We must be able to fight for needed change without our babies dying in the process.

After sub­stantive research, I have found scat­tered, brief news reports on children mur­dered by pro­testors. But I have yet to find a com­pi­lation that truly tells these children’s stories, as they ought to be told, in their raw, bleeding, grim reality. I find articles filled with sta­tistics and numbers and death tolls. I see pieces on George Floyd and on the history of racism. But where are the articles that mourn these mur­dered children? Where is the outrage?

Lawrence Jones, the father of 7‑year-old Natalie Wallace who was shot and killed on July 4, expressed his frus­tration that a black child mur­dered in her neigh­borhood does not receive the same attention as a black male killed by a white police officer. He said, “The fact that there is not outrage uni­ver­sally when both things happen ticks me off because both of the lives matter. But it seems that in a time like this, both sides can choose which stories they want to cover.”

It seems no jour­nalist is inter­ested in col­lecting the stories of black victims like Natalie or revealing how numerous these young victims really are. Their stories are not told in The New York Times. Not in The Wash­ington Post. Not any major news­paper or magazine.

Because nobody else has done this, I will.

In a span of 35 days — May 31 to July 4 — the lives of 10 children were bru­tally cut short for no reason. 10 innocent children who had no voice. 10 children who will never breathe again.

Here are their stories.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

My name is Natalie Wallace.

I am 7 years old, and my favorite person in the whole world is Grandma.

I am a big girl now, because I just fin­ished first grade. I love art and math, and I always tell my friends “I love you!” at the end of every school day.

Today I am at Grandma’s house because it is the Fourth of July, and we are having a big cel­e­bration with fire­works and yummy food.

Daddy drops me off at the house, and I imme­di­ately run outside to play with my cousins.

Sud­denly, I hear gun­shots. The next moment, a bullet takes me in the forehead. Bright, hot pain and absolute terror are my final memories.

My name is Mekhi James.        

I am 3 years old, and my step daddy just took me out to get my first “big guy” haircut.

I didn’t know that it would also be my last “big guy” haircut.

I won’t get to go to school this fall, or play outside, or see my step daddy ever again. My life was taken from me. I don’t know why. What did I do wrong?

Daddy and I were driving home when a car pulled up beside ours and started firing bullets at us. I was shot in the back and cried out “it hurts! It hurts!”, but daddy couldn’t help me. He tried. He couldn’t stop the pain; he couldn’t stop the blood. He couldn’t save me. I had never seen Daddy cry before, but his tears fell all across my face. I died in his arms.

My name is Amaria Jones.

I love to dance. I post music videos on TikTok, and my mom always says I’m her little star. Some­times, during bas­ketball practice, I show off my dance moves.

I am 13 years old, and I want to be a lawyer someday. My favorite color is purple.

Today, I am in my house in South Austin, Chicago. I’m showing mom a new dance move of mine.

Her smile is the last thing I see before a bullet smashes through our window and pierces my neck. I can feel the blood running hotly down my neck, and I hear her scream, before every­thing goes dark.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

My name is Davon McNeal.

I am 11 years old. I like to play football, and my older brother often plays with me. I told mommy that I was going to be in the NFL when I grew up. Yes­terday I told her, “when I make it, I’m going to buy you the biggest house I can find.”

I play video games with my friends and brothers. I always love going on vacation with my family. We go to Ocean City, Florida, and New Jersey.

My family has always called Ana­costia, D.C home. Today, I am at a com­munity cookout to cel­e­brate the Fourth of July. My mommy brought us all together today. She loves this holiday, and she loves the people here.

My phone died, so I jumped in the car with my mom to head over to my aunt’s house to get a charger.

I never saw my aunt that night.

I stepped out of the car, and someone from my own neigh­borhood shot at me. The bullet hit me in the head.

My name is Lena Nunez Anaya.

My stepdad likes to call me “sweet little girl,” because I’m always so happy. I am always smiling.

I love every­thing about life, but school espe­cially. This year I will be in the fifth grade, and my favorite sub­jects are reading and math. My stepdad gives me math problems to do, and I always plead, “can you make some more problems for me?” He always does.

I like walking with my cousins and playing in the pool with my little sib­lings. I also like watching dance videos on TikTok.

This evening I’m hanging out with my brother and Grandma, and we are watching TV.

I hear loud voices and gun­shots outside our house. I am scared, and I tell Grandma. The last thing I hear is the living room window smashing into glass frag­ments. A bullet frac­tures my skull. I stopped breathing, just like Mr. Floyd.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

 My name is Sincere Gaston.

I’m just “Little Guy.” 20 months old. I hear that a lot.

I have three older sib­lings and a mommy and daddy.

I am driving home with mommy in her car today. A big car pulls up alongside us, and I see a man’s face through the window. He looks really angry. He waves his gun and starts shooting at our car.

I feel a sharp pain in my chest as a bullet smashes into me, and mommy screams. I die moments later.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

My name is Sec­oriea Turner. 

My mom is my best friend. We dance together, I tell her all about school, and I always have a kiss and a hug for her. I have two older brothers who mommy says will always protect me, and they like to call me SeSe.

My birthday is on November 29, and I will be 9 years old this year. I like to post TikTok videos with my mom. I told her that I want to be a nurse when I grow up because I see sad people, and I want to make them happy.

Today my mom and I are driving to my cousin’s house because it is the Fourth of July, and we want to play.

I don’t know why, but sud­denly people started shooting at our car. I was hit and cried out in pain, reaching out for my mom. She held me and rocked me, her voice soothing like when she used to sing me to sleep at night. I died in her arms.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

My name is Vernado Jones, Jr.

I love my hair. Ever since I could remember, it’s been huge and curly. My mom nick­named me Samson because I reminded her of the Bib­lical figure who drew strength from his long hair.

I’m 14 years old today, and this is a very exciting year for me. I am going to attend Simeon Career Academy in the fall, where I will play bas­ketball. It’s my dream to play pro­fes­sionally someday.

My aunt tells me, “I’m waiting on my NBA tickets.”

Today I’m watching a fire­works show with my mom and a bunch of other excited kids in a parking lot.

The col­orful and bright explo­sions of light that illu­minate my mom’s smile are the final images of my life.

A bullet strikes me in the back, shat­tering all my hopes and dreams.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

My name is Royta Giles, Jr.

I am 8 years old, and I go to school at Jonesboro Ele­mentary School. I like making jokes because it makes me happy to hear people laugh.

I want to be a musician when I grow up. I also like fashion and video games.

I watch over my little sisters and am the big brother who taught them how to pillow fight and jump over couches.

I am at the mall today with my sisters, Trinity and Marlee, and my mom. We are going to buy new outfits for the Fourth of July.

That was the last day I spent with my family. Someone opened gunfire, and I found myself lying on the ground, with a bullet buried in my head.

Courtesy | The Daily Citizen

My name is Italia Kelly.

I am 22 years old. I am the oldest of five sib­lings, and I am closest with my 19-year-old sister, Jasmine.

Today I am at a protest in Dav­enport because I believe in fighting for matters close to my heart. I want my voice to be heard. Sud­denly, the protest gets unruly, and I want to leave. My sister, Jasmine, texts me to say that I should leave.

Jasmine was right, I should go home. I jump in the backseat of the car with my friends, but I never make it out. I was shot in the back by a fellow protestor.

Today my mom and I are driving to my cousin’s house because it is the Fourth of July, and we want to play.

I don’t know why, but sud­denly people started shooting at our car. I was hit and cried out in pain, reaching out for my mom. She held me and rocked me, her voice soothing like when she used to sing me to sleep at night. I died in her arms.

No, none of us were killed by a police officer. We were shot by our neighbors, by those who all want the same thing: a better life, more justice, greater equality, more oppor­tunity. What about our lives? Will anyone march for us?

None of our parents can find comfort in telling them­selves we died for a just cause. There was nothing noble in how we died. We died sense­lessly. We died just as Mr. Floyd died. Where is the outrage for us? Where is the com­passion for our parents, our aunties, our uncles, our sib­lings, and our Nana and Pops? They have massive holes in their lives.

Say our names aloud. Remember our stories. Stop the vio­lence. Defend life. 

Anne Ziegler is a senior studying English.