Gun violence takes its toll in Allen beyond a mass shooting

Allen had a gun violence problem in 2023 — and it wasn’t just the mass shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets. More people in Allen were victims of everyday gun violence.

By Caroline Love, KERA NewsMay 8, 2024 10:00 am, ,

From KERA News:

Allen has a gun violence problem — and it’s not just because of last year’s mass shooting.

A gunman armed with three assault weapons fatally shot eight victims at the Allen Premium Outlets mall almost exactly a year ago, before he was killed by a police officer. But even when those deaths are excluded, a KERA analysis found that 19 more people in Allen died from gun violence last year — more than double the gun-related deaths there in 2022.

And some Allen residents want to do something about it.

Life was almost back to normal at the mall on Sunday — one day before the anniversary of the mass shooting. It was packed. Music wafted through the open air mall’s speakers. The birds were chirping.

But just a few miles from the mall at Green Park, advocates for gun control mourned the lives lost when Mauricio Garcia, a gunman with Nazi tattoos, showed up on May 6, 2023, and shot and Kyu and Cindy Cho, their three-year-old son James Cho, 11-year-old Daniella and her eight-year-old sister Sofia Mendoza, Christian LaCour, Elio Cumana Rivas and Aishwarya Thatikonda.

Name plagues were planted for each of the victims of the 2023 shooting at the Allen Premium Mall during a remembrance rally Sunday, May 5, 2024, at Green Park in Allen.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

The ground at Green Park was still damp from the previous night’s rain. Children were shrieking and giggling as they played on the playground a few feet from the memorial. Some of their parents stopped to watch the rememberance.

Three rainbow pinwheels were placed next to the signs that bore the names of children. The spring breeze spun the pinwheels throughout the remembrance.

Isabella Spartz talked about the futures those children lost during the memorial.

“Kids that won’t graduate high school or go to college,” Spartz said. “Kids that won’t experience prom or get to be the person that they want to be when they want to grow up.”

Spartz, a 20-year-old student at the University of Texas at Dallas, speaks out against gun violence with Students Demand Action. She said firearms are the number one killer of her generation. A study published by the Centers of Disease Control in December 2023 found that firearms were a leading cause of death for minors in the U.S. using data from 2003 to 2021.

Laila Saithu, sophomore at Allen High School, talks about gun violence during the Allen remembrance rally Sunday, May 5, 2024, at Green Park in Allen.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

James, Daniella and Sofia weren’t the only kids killed with a gun in Allen last year. Four children died in two unrelated murder suicides that happened after the mall shooting. The youngest victim was a year old.

Nicole Golden, the executive director at Texas Gun Sense, said an average of 4,000 Texans are shot and killed every year. Texas Gun Sense advocates for gun reform policies.

“There’s a steady drumbeat of gun violence daily, whether it’s firearm suicide or interpersonal violence, domestic violence,” Golden said.

Half of Allen’s gun deaths last year were suicides. Tom Wiesle from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said suicide is a part of gun violence that isn’t talked about enough.

Wiesle said suicide prevention needs to be a part of the gun reform conversation. He said there are policies that can make a difference — like storage laws or waiting periods.

Participants plant flags with names of victims of mass shootings during an Allen remembrance rally Sunday, May 5, 2024, at Green Park in Allen.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

“The more time you put between someone who’s made the decision to take their life and they’re actually taking it, the better chance of them not taking their own lives,” Wiesle said.

Rep. Mihaela Plesa told the crowd at the remembrance that she will fight to pass gun reforms in the Texas legislature. Plesa, who’s running for a second term, represents Texas House District 70, which includes parts of Allen.

“I know that in the state of Texas, we can protect the Second Amendment and second graders,” she said.

But getting that done may an uphill battle for Plesa and others who think like her. Texas has a history of loosening gun restrictions, not creating more.

State Rep. Mihaela Plesa talks about gun laws during an Allen remembrance rally Sunday, May 5, 2024, at Green Park in Allen.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

A bill that would’ve raised the age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21 failed to pass after missing a key deadline. And Attorney General Ken Paxton recently sued the federal government to block its efforts to close the gun show loophole for background checks.

Plesa told the crowd at the Allen memorial she’ll need their help to overcome those obstacles.

The kids at the playground in the Allen park kept playing throughout the memorial as the crowd chanted. They’re the lives the advocates are fighting for — children they want to grow up in a world without the horrors of gun violence.

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