MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A carjacking at an intersection. Gunfire in the middle of an apartment complex. These violent crimes have one thing in common: a child caught with a stolen gun.
The data is distressing: Since 2016, each year more and more children in Memphis have been caught with guns. What's worse, a new report from the crime commission shows juveniles committed 58% more violent crime this year compared to last.
"We know that the youth in Memphis are not making guns. They are getting access to guns. A lot are coming from cars. Some are illegal guns being sold and traded," Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said.
The 911 call from the carjacking recounts the unnerving moments that happened at an intersection at Knight and Glanding, just after midnight May 31.
"They just walked up to the car with guns," the victim told the dispatcher.
He said four or five guys pulled him out of his 2014 Cadillac ATS. Then they got in and sped off.
OnStar quickly helped police track the car three miles away on Pebble Beach Road, but the car didn't stop. Instead it slammed into a squad car and led police on a short chase that ended at 385 and Ridgeway.
Officers said the group hopped out and scattered. They caught two of them, and the gun they had was flagged as stolen.
Police traced it to a car break-in from September 2018 on Royalcrest Drive. No arrests were made in the case, so it's unclear how the alleged teen carjackers wound up with it.
La'Keshia Bunton doesn't know who ransacked her apartment on Greenside Drive last September. She said she came home from taking a lunch break and found her door open.
Someone had broken into a gun case and taken her purple 9mm.
"I guess my biggest concern was that I have a child at home," Bunton said. "What if this gun had got into the wrong hands?"
Exactly five months later, her biggest concern became a reality.
Her gun wound up in the hands of a teenager involved in a shooting in Uptown. Officers said he was carrying it inside an apartment complex when two other teens started shooting at him.
The 911 call details what the office manager saw: "They are walking back towards the building," he told the dispatcher. "Go away! Go away! Lay on the ground! Lay on the ground! Lay on the ground!"
Seconds later, gunfire echoed.
"He got a gun on him! He shot at me!" he said.
No one was injured.
Police said they not only arrested the shooters, but also arrested that teen for having Bunton's gun.
"Tried to be optimistic about everything, but to hear that it's been in the hands of kids. That's really bothering me right now," Bunton said.
Police haven't said how the teen got Bunton's gun. They're thankful she wrote down the serial number and reported it stolen, so they could at least trace it back to the original owner.
That's something that hasn't happened in a majority of the reports we pulled involving children with guns. The firearms aren't reported as stolen, leaving many people with questions.
"Why or how? I'm confused. I'm upset with him," a distraught mother told WREG earlier this month after her 12-year-old was accused of a carjacking attempt.
She said she broke down when she heard her son got hold of a gun and reportedly tried to carjack a woman in east Memphis earlier this month. Neither she nor police have said where the weapon came from.
"I'm haunted by the sight of a 12-year-old holding a gun trying to commit a carjacking," Rallings said.
He also told us youth violence isn't going to go away until the community gets involved and state lawmakers wake up.
In 2013, a law was passed allowing drivers to bring their guns into their cars without a carry permit.
Since then, Rallings said, thousands of guns have been stolen out of cars in Memphis, and young people are finding them.
"Guns in cars have plagued our city," he said.
Police created the following form for gun owners, so they can inventory the guns with the information investigators will need in case it gets stolen. Find that form below.
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