- Associated Press - Sunday, May 7, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - What do you tell a middle school student who is more worried about getting shot than passing the next exam?

That was the situation Tuesday for Candyse Anderson, a therapist at Samaritan Counseling Center who provides counseling to Valiant Cross Academy twice a week. One day after 14-year-old Bellingrath Middle School student Ja’Querria Timmons was murdered after school let out, sixth-grade students at Valiant Cross came to Anderson with fears and questions children and teenagers shouldn’t have.

“Many of them were emotionally and psychologically affected by the death of the young lady at Bellingrath,” Anderson said. “Kind of a post-traumatic stress response to what happened. One young man said things like, ‘I’m scared that this will happen to me. Why does this happen? I don’t understand how you can just kill somebody. Where do they get the guns from? How do I stay safe?’”

Valiant Cross students are known for their maturity and manners, products of their intensive support system and school camaraderie. And yet, after the fatal shooting of Timmons, those students were shaken. Anderson said they were afraid to walk through their own communities.

“One sixth-grader said, ‘I want to keep my community safe, but I’m afraid I’m going to be shot,” Anderson said.

Anderson said it’s concerning to see middle schoolers having to ask why shootings happen. It’s also a product of the recent wave of youth crime. Two students have been shot near school grounds after school this semester, and hours before Timmons was shot near Bellingrath on May 1, two other juveniles attempted to bring a gun into McKee Middle School. When they were stopped, they fired in the air outside the school.

The youth crime problems go back to last year. There were several reports of youths breaking into or stealing cars, a possible source of many of the guns used in youth violence, police say. Then there was the lady who was forced out of her car at gunpoint while in line at drive-thru and the teens who stole iPads from Pike Road School, to name a few incidents. On Jan. 30, 18-year-old Jaylen Henderson was shot and killed by 17-year-old Markeefé Hill after the two allegedly stole a rifle, and there were reports from the city at the time that the youth facility was at full occupancy. Lee High School student Quinterrious Norman is facing assault and burglary charges after he allegedly stole a gun from a neighbor, brought it to school and shot both a car and a female student outside the school on March 16.

Anderson said having to worry about safety can severely impact a student’s performance at school. When asked what can be said to a middle schooler afraid to walk home in the afternoon, Anderson said she told Valiant Cross students to be mindful of the impact of every decision, both good and bad.

“One thing I explained to the kids (Tuesday) was that although we can’t affect the actions of bad people, we can speak up, make healthy choices and do our part to make positive change in our community,” Anderson said. “Your actions affect other people whether they’re good or bad. I’d just like to encourage parents to talk to their children and reassure them that they will work to make their community safe.”

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