In-depth: The gateway to gun violence

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Elena Sherwood

There were 188 homicide victims in St. Louis during 2015, the highest yearly toll the city had seen in two decades, according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department records. Since then, St. Louis homicide rates have yet to dip below that of 2015, reaching the highest rate of 87.2 per 100,000 people in 2020, or 263 homicides in total.

A school resource officer escorts her toward her mother’s car, where her family sits in silence. A few minutes ago, she was in band class. Now, she watches her mother’s tear-soaked eyes and somber expressions as she delivers the disturbing news. In a moment, she will wrap her arms around her mother and sisters as they attempt to comfort each other. But for now, she has to comprehend the fact that she will never see her uncle again.

On Jan. 15, 2015, Isabella Knopfel, senior, learned that her uncle, Scott Knopfel, had been fatally shot during a robbery on his night shift at a Drury Inn in south St. Louis.

On Jan. 15, 2015, Isabella Knopfel, senior, learned that her uncle, Scott Knopfel, had been fatally shot during a robbery on his night shift at a Drury Inn in south St. Louis. She said it was one of the longest and most devastating days of her life.

“I cried a lot [when my uncle died],” Knopfel said. “I never saw my uncle upset. He was always the one making jokes and laughing. [When we were younger,] he used to hold our hands and let us climb all over him like a jungle gym. He always just wanted to make us happy.”

Scott was one of 188 homicide victims in St. Louis during 2015, the highest yearly toll the city had seen in two decades, according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department records. Since then, St. Louis homicide rates have yet to dip below that of 2015, reaching the highest rate of 87.2 per 100,000 people in 2020, or 263 homicides in total.

“It’s so upsetting to hear that so many people are shot and killed [in St. Louis],” Knopfel said. “From the experience with my uncle, I know that so many people are affected by each [death] and that each person meant so much to people.”

Six years and over 1,224 St. Louisan homicides after Scott’s death, Trinity Richardson, senior, received similar news as Knopfel. On April 6, 2021, Richardson lost her boyfriend, 17-year-old Maury Williams, to a shooting in north St. Louis.

On April 6, 2021, Trinity Richardson, senior, lost her boyfriend, 17-year-old Maury Williams, to a shooting in north St. Louis.

 

“I was in disbelief,” Richardson said. “I had just talked to him the day prior. It was a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ [situation], so it was a ‘why?’ [reaction]. He was only 17. He was supposed to graduate this year. There was so much more he could’ve done.”

Richardson said Williams was taken to the hospital his mother worked at, where he was pronounced dead. Although she thinks that had a big impact on her, Richardson said his mother is handling the tragedy well.

“[His mother] is taking the grieving process better than me,” Richardson said. “She has been [treating the situation] like a celebration of life. His birthday was on Halloween and she threw a whole 18th birthday party for him. I was in the corner crying and she was dancing around.”

Four days prior to Williams’ death, on April 2, 2021, police responded to gunshots within three miles of KHS, at the West County Mall in Des Peres. Shots were fired after two groups got into an argument. Samantha Maull, senior, was working at Hollister in the mall when the gun went off.

“I didn’t hear the gunshot, I just saw people running to the back,” Maull said. “I was trying to keep my cool, but my hands were all shaky. We had a couple of little kids [with us] that were freaking out. It’s scary, because it was two people getting into an argument and one of them just pulled out a gun.”

Samantha Maull, senior, was working at Hollister in the West County Mall when a gunshot went off on April 2, 2021.

That incident ended with no injuries, but another gun altercation at the West County Mall on July 3, 2021 resulted in the death of 20-year-old Malachi Maclin. These shootings, along with those of Scott Knopfel, Maury Williams and thousands of others, contribute to St. Louis’ consistent high ranking from CBS News for most dangerous city in America, including second in 2020. Adrian Washington, police officer for the St. Louis County Police Department, said gun violence is difficult to prevent because nobody can predict it.

“We’re talking about people’s decision to choose to commit a crime with a firearm,” Washington said. “How do you determine when somebody is going to choose that? We don’t [do] any special type of [surveillance] to determine [who] will later commit a gun crime. We have no idea.”

In the face of this, some area politicians are actively attempting to decrease gun violence. In an interview at a conference in October 2021, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said her team has implemented programs to help ease the problem in St. Louis, such as sending mental health professionals on 911 calls. On top of this, some state senators are currently lobbying to revise Missouri state gun laws.

[I want] to make sure guns are put in the right hands for the right reasons.”

— Richardson

Under current Missouri legislation, permitless, open and concealed carry are all legal for handguns. No permit, background check or registration is required when purchasing a handgun from a private individual. Steven Roberts, St. Louis state senator for district five, is sponsoring a bill that would make a valid concealed carry permit required for open or concealed carry in St. Louis City. This bill had its first reading on Jan. 5, 2022, after an identical bill was struck down in 2020.

Potentially due to such initiatives, homicide rates dropped between 2020 to 2021, from a rate of 87.2 per 100,000 people to 65.0. Despite this, Knopfel, Richardson and Maull agreed that gun violence in St. Louis is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

“[St. Louis] needs to get the guns off the streets,” Richardson said. “[We need to] bring awareness to gun violence. A gun can be pulled out at any time. Especially after having someone so close to me get taken from me due to gun violence, [I want] to make sure guns are put in the right hands for the right reasons.” 

You need to understand the value of someone’s life.”

— Knopfel

All three also stressed the importance of empathy and human life. Knopfel said if she could speak to her uncle’s shooter right now, she would tell him the same.

“You need to understand the value of someone’s life,” Knopfel said. “You might see them as a stranger, but you have no clue the impact that will have on the people that love and care for them.”