MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A 13-year-old caught with an AK-47 style rifle. A 14-year-old with a loaded pistol. A 15-year-old flashing a 20-gauge shotgun.
Police report far too many children were caught with guns on the streets of Memphis this year and even more used those weapons to commit crimes.
WREG is committed to creating a Gun Safe Memphis. Our investigation uncovers new details about the disturbing trends and the lives impacted.
For Memphis mother Jermecia Vance, a paralyzing night replays in her mind. On March 5, 15-year-old Rodriques Minor Jr., known to most as Little Rocky, went to ride scooters in downtown Memphis.
“I’m like okay. I’ll see you later,” his mother recalled. “Later never came.”
She wasn’t at work long before her phone rang. Her son had been shot in his torso. He didn’t make it.
Vance said it stemmed from an argument her son wasn’t involved in. The teens pulled out guns including an assault rifle. They opened fire without care.
“He was an amazing kid,” Vance said. “He played football. He was going out for the basketball team at his high school this year.”
Police won’t comment on the weapons involved or where they came from.
Vance said in spite of the charges, the accused have not been punished. Neither Juvenile Court nor Memphis police would provide an update on where the case stands.
Vance said she was shocked to hear the juveniles even had guns and even more shocked to see what our investigation uncovered.
Through a public records act, we discovered between 2020 and the first part of this year, dozens of children were nabbed for carrying a gun.
Tennessee law forbids anyone under the age of 18 to possess a firearm. But children as young as 13 were reportedly caught with “an AK-style rifle.”
Police say there were also 14- and 15-year-olds caught with guns including one who flashed a “pistol tucked in his waistband” when a clerk said he wasn’t “old enough to purchase tobacco.”
Officers reported another 15-year-old boy had a gun that he “bought from someone” on the streets. His mom called police when she found it “hidden in his room.”
The number of 16- and 17-year-olds charged with unlawful possession has increased. Some weapons were found “fully loaded.” Others were found with “extended magazines.”
Police say they were found in plain sight during traffic stops or tucked in their pants out in public.
“The access to guns is like never before,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “Any police officer you talk to who has been on the force 20-25 years will tell you that 20-25 years ago, it was very unusual to find a teen who had access to a weapon. Now it’s routine.”
Strickland says since a state law passed allowing people to carry guns in their cars, more firearms have been left unsecured in vehicles. Thieves caught on. Car break-ins have skyrocketed and created a huge underground market.
“If you’ve got access to a cell phone, you’ve got access to a gun. Our kids can buy guns for $30-40 now,” said Delvin Lane, head of the 901 B.L.O.C. Squad, which is a group working to reduce gun violence on the streets of Memphis.
“You can intervene right in our household. We’ve got kids with guns in the closets. Military-style guns. Our parents, our uncles, and our grandparents can be intervention workers in their house. Figure out what’s going on and then talk those kids down,” Lane said.
Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis agreed.
“People think the police are babysitters. We are not,” she said. “Parents should help us take care of their children and make sure they aren’t confronted with a police officer, and they aren’t armed.”
Juvenile violence has increased from last year. From January through September, more than 400 juveniles were charged with a violent crime.
They used guns to commit carjackings, robberies, and shootings.
Two 16-year-olds were recently arrested for shooting a teen near his school. He’s expected to be okay, avoiding the loss Minor’s family can’t grasp.
A prayer vigil was held for Minor. He was remembered as a strong athlete, a mentor, and the best son.
“There’s not a second or moment of a day I’m not thinking of my son. He was my everything,” Vance said.