Five-month-old Aavielle Wakefield -- who was shot to death in Cleveland earlier this month -- was laid to rest today, with her heartbroken family crying as they walked behind her tiny, white coffin on the way to her gravesite.
On the night of Oct. 1, Aavielle was in her car seat riding with family when shots rang out. A bullet tore through the car door and into her chest.
Aavielle was the third child under age six fatally shot in Cleveland in just over a month -– a 5-year-old and 3-year-old were also killed in drive-by shootings.
Police Chief Calvin Williams says these kids are innocent victims in the epidemic of murders plaguing that city.
Cleveland’s murder rate has jumped 27 percent from last year. And Cleveland is not unique. Major cities like Baltimore, Houston, Washington, DC and Dallas are all experiencing double-digit spikes in homicide this year, and too often, officials say, the very young are caught in the crossfire.
In the days since her murder, media coverage and police statements have helped make Aavielle into something of a symbol of the young, innocent victims of gun violence in Cleveland. Her murder brought Williams to tears.
“Our babies are caught in the crossfire,” Williams said. “When are we going to stop counting dead babies out there on the street?”
FBI statistics show that from 2010 through 2013, firearm homicides took the lives of 439 children under the age of 12. The total rises to 1,437 when you add people from age 12-16. These are the latest stats available, and don’t reflect the sudden spike in homicides in major cities in 2015.
Chicago U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon spoke passionately about how young people are being cut down in his city late last month.
“These are our kids. These are our neighborhoods,” Fardon said. “This problem hits the heart of who we are, and who we want to be, as a city. We cannot abide our Chicago being one where it’s okay for kids to die and entire neighborhoods to cocoon in fear.”
Fardon, Williams and other law enforcement officials blame a resurgence of violent gangs on city streets for much of the violence. Williams said that social media disputes, turf battles, drug disputes and personal vendettas often spark drive-by shootings, like the one that killed Aavielle.
“This should not be happening in our city,” Williams said. “We’ve got to do something about it.”