Dying Young in Birmingham: Can the city save its children?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The City of Birmingham has experienced 90 homicides as of yesterday.

Of those homicides, nine of the victims are under the age of 17. As more of the city’s children fall victim to gun violence, we see the terror of their demise through those they have left behind.

The family of Birmingham’s youngest shooting victim, two-year-old Ron’Narius Austin, who they affectionately called Duke, opened up to CBS42 News about the tragedy of losing an innocent child.

Duke’s mother, Toshima, describes her precious son through tears as smart, funny and sweet.

“He knew everything, he loved his daddy, grandma he loved everybody,” she said.

Duke’s life was snatched away, police say, at the hands of four young men who are now charged with capital murder.

Duke was inside a car in Avondale along with his mother, father, and another man, who drove to this gas station, after being shot himself, as they were escaping a barrage of gunfire.

Cheryl Irby, Duke’s grandmother, was shocked by what she believed to be a careless display.

“Not knowing who was in the car, because at the particular time they didn’t care who was in the car because they shot 67 times and as they were getting away, they were running through the alley behind them still shooting,” Irby said.

Holding Duke in her left arm during the shooting, Toshima tried to shield him from the bullets with her right arm.

“I was shot in my arm five times. One of the bullets hit him,” Toshima said. “One of the bullets went through my arm and one of the bullets hit him in his head.”

Duke was clinging to life when his grandmother, fearing his death, arrived at Children’s of Alabama.

“They asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to see him?’ and I did for the last time,” Irby said. “On that stretcher, his head was so swollen but I didn’t care. I kissed on him and I loved on him and told him how much I loved him, and how much we’re going to miss him.”

Hours later, Duke passed away.

RELATED: 4 indicted in Avondale shooting death of 2-year-old child

Pastor Roy Peterson, the chaplain at Eastside Funeral Home, handled Duke’s burial.

“Someone that goes into one of these should be someone who has longevity,” Peterson said. “That’s what we opened this business for, we didn’t open it to say we have more kids.”

Young murder victims is a tragic reality hitting hard across Birmingham.

The total of nine shooting victims under 17 this year is up from six kids shot to death in 2016, according to the latest Jefferson County Coroner’s Office report.

Judge Raymond Chambliss, the presiding judge in Juvenile Court, believes that the total of those dead does not tell the whole story.

“How many have been shot and just didn’t die? How many were shot and were in critical condition and happened to make it? How many shooting have we actually had?” Chambliss asked. “I bet it would be an astounding figure.”

Chambliss points to failed homes as the main contributing factor to kids dying on our streets.

“The family is the entity, it is the socializing unit the child is with 24/7,” Chambliss said. “I only see the child briefly. The folks at school only see the child briefly. We need positive messages. Let’s take the 50’s and 60’s art, we didn’t have these types of the problems because you had better parenting then.”

In the grief of losing her grandson to the violent streets, Irby agress with the judge.

“It’s the parenting,” Irby said. “A lot of these young boys don’t have father figures in they life and I think that’s one of the reasons they act out the way that they do.”


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