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Teens, Guns, Death: A National Epidemic

More people are carrying guns and more people are being shot or fired at in Spokane County.

Two girls killed in Hillyard Wednesday were the most recent victims.

“There are more and more guns out there and more and more people willing to use them,” said Spokane Police spokesman Dick Cottam. “A lot of them are kids and I don’t think they realize the consequences. It’s because kids think they are all indestructible.”

Although Wednesday’s double homicide in Hillyard is unusual for Spokane, it fits a national trend showing violent crime dropping in every age group except teens and adults under age 25.

While handguns remain the most popular weapon among criminals, semiautomatic assault rifles - like the one used Wednesday - are becoming the gun of choice among teenagers.

Homicides by boys age 14 to 17 increased 165 percent over the last 10 years, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released last month. Homicides by men 18-24 years old increased 65 percent over the same period.

In most cases, their victims were other teenagers, the report said.

In Spokane, police have both anecdotal and hard evidence that show a growing use of guns among teenagers.

The number of guns used in robberies and assaults has steadily climbed for five years.

Guns were used during 80 felony assaults and 84 robberies throughout Spokane County in 1990. In 1994, criminals used guns in 300 felony assaults and 184 robberies.

Officers also respond to more calls of shots fired now than ever before, Cottam said.

“A lot of people who are firing weapons are doing so indiscriminately,” Cottam said. “They do it just for no reason at all.”

Those calls often seem innocuous because no one gets hurt, he said. But this summer, several teenagers have been shot.

In addition to the Hillyard shooting:

Shelley Morgan, 15, lost an eye after being shot in the face with a shotgun July 8 while sitting in a car outside the Northpointe Taco Bell restaurant. Nathan Witherspoon, 16, is being tried as an adult for the shooting.

Clarisa Darcy, 18, remains in critical condition at Deaconess Medical Center, after being shot in the head Aug 1. Police interviewed two boys, age 15 and 18, who said the shooting at a North Side house was an accident.

Police said gang members peppered a South Hill home with bullets June 15, apparently trying hit an 18-year-old who lives at the home. At least one handgun and a shotgun were used in the shooting. No one was injured.

In the Hillyard shooting, the suspect targeted the house, but not necessarily the girls, Cottam said.

“This was not a random deal,” he said. “The guy clearly was after someone at this house.”

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