'Very alarming:' New report shows NC child homicides and suicides doubled in a decade

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A brand new report reveals some sobering new numbers on the top causes of child death in North Carolina. Homicide and suicide rates have more than doubled in the past 10 years. Homicide is now the leading cause of death of North Carolina kids ages 1 to 17.

ABC11 discussed the report's findings with Kella Hatcher, executive director of the state's Child Fatality Task Force, which authored the report based on the newest statistics from 2020.

"We have seen a significant increase in firearm deaths. That was very alarming," said Hatcher.

It's cases like the murder of 9-year-old Z'Yon Person in Durham in August 2019. The boy was shot in the head from a passing car while riding with his aunt to get snow cones. And, since then, there's been a pandemic surge of gun-buying in America -- some legal, some not -- many of the weapons not protected enough.

"And that logically means that there are likely to be more guns that are not safely stored and accessible to curious young children," Hatcher added.

Suicide is now the fourth leading cause of death for children 1 to 17 in North Carolina. 56 lives were taken by suicide.

"Even before the pandemic, there were indicators of youth mental health that were worsening," Hatcher said. "And pandemic circumstances only exacerbated what we're now recognizing as a crisis in youth mental health."

Just last month, a month devoted to raising awareness about child abuse prevention included heartbreaking cases of alleged deadly abuse -- including a 14-month-old baby girl and her 3-month-old brother found unresponsive in a car in Rocky Mount. The children died at the hospital with what police said were signs of abuse on their bodies.

Hatcher told ABC11 that it is time for an upgrade to the state's 30-year-old Child Fatality Prevention System.

"It's been critically important in our state, and it's done a lot of good," said Hatcher. "But it also has gaps and deficiencies that really need to be addressed. We need to update that system."

Hatcher and her team sent a list of policy fixes to lawmakers on Jones Street. She also lamented that North Carolina is one of only three states that does not participate in the National Child Death Case Reporting System. She said if we did, the state could gain an even better understanding of how why so many of its children are dying.
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