‘It’s heartbreaking:’ Free gun locks offered after girl, 9, shot and killed; brother, parents in custody

Miyanna Jelks

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention and WestCare are calling on families to "consistently and securely store firearms out of the reach of children and youth." This, in the wake of the shooting death of 9-year-old Miyanna Jelks on Saturday, March 10. The girl's brother and parents were taken into custody. It's being called accidental, and officials say situations like this are preventable. Free gun locks were handed out Monday night in the neighborhood near 38th and Ruby, where this happened, in an effort to avoid tragedies like this.

FOX6 News has learned the City of Milwaukee is launching an aggressive campaign this spring to promote gun safety, and the effort started Monday in Jelks' neighborhood.

"To me as a parent, this is the worst nightmare that one could experience. Losing a child in any situation is a complete nightmare," said Mayor Barrett. "It's heartbreaking and at the same time is extremely troubling."

"We just want to let all families know that gun locks do save lives," said Aerion Steward with WestCare Wisconsin.

"We gotta lock our guns down to prevent our kids getting to the guns. That's the main concern," said Maurionta Steward with WestCare Wisconsin.

So far this year, according to the national Gun Violence Archive, 118 children under the age of 11 have been injured or killed as a result of gun violence in America. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office said Jelks is the first child killed as a result of gunfire this year -- and city leaders are calling for her to be the last.

"We as a city, and adults in this city, have to do everything they can to make sure guns, loaded or unloaded, are not within the reach of children," Barrett said. "This is something that we as adults have an obligation to make sure guns are not accessible to children."

Jelks was killed after her brother somehow pulled the trigger. City leaders said they're worried about easy access to a loaded gun -- so the free gun locks are being made available to anyone who needs them.

Alderwoman Milele Coggs

"The child got her hands on the gun and the brother intervened and now the young girl is dead," Mayor Barrett said. "Make sure that gun is locked away from children and in a place where children cannot get them. We have gun locks for individual and families so this tragedy is never repeated again in this city."

"I am the mother of a 9-year-old girl myself. I cannot imagine the pain that the parents and the family of that little girl and how they feel in this moment," said Alderwoman Milele Coggs. "Whenever we have the loss of a loved one, we have to recognize that it impacts not just that family, but an entire community -- the trauma of the friends, of the classmates, of the people who live on the same block as that little girl. It's heavy for any community to handle."

The Office of Violence Prevention has produced gun safety guides with tips and information on its website milwaukee.gov/staysafe. The office has also partnered with the Love Up, Lock Down campaign created by West Care Milwaukee. This is a youth-led campaign that provides free gun locks throughout the community.

Free gun locks will be available on Monday, March 12 at the West Care office located at 335 W. Wright. No ID required. Limit three per household. This week, free gun locks will also be available at the following locations:

  • Milwaukee Police District Stations
    • District 2: 245 W. Lincoln Ave.
    • District 7: 3626 W. Fond Du Lac Ave.
  • City of Milwaukee Health Centers
    • Keenan Health Center: 3200 N. 36th St.
    • Northwest Health Center: 7630 W. Mill Rd.
    • Southside Health Center: 1639 S. 23rd St.

On Wednesday, March 14, WestCare Wisconsin will be in the neighborhood near 38th and Ruby at 5:30 p.m. to pass out free gun locks to those residents who need to lock up their guns.

9-year-old girl fatally shot near 38th and Ruby

Last year, 600 gun locks were given away for free, so there's a big and growing demand for them.

"We've got to make sure that the kids are protected," said Jesse McSwain, Salvation Army chaplain.

"This is not something that should ever be normalized, or that we should be comfortable with as a community," said Reggie Moore with the City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Public Schools' crisis team was on hand at Emerson Elementary School Monday, where Miyanna Jelks was a student. A vigil is set for Tuesday at 38th and Ruby, outside Jelks' home.