More than most days, the Fourth of July is a time when bullets randomly fall from the sky in Kansas City, puncturing holes in people’s houses, breaking windows and sometimes killing children.
The bullets come from people shooting guns for fun, which they do all year but particularly during the Independence Day weekend.
Police call it celebratory gunfire. It can kill.
To stop that, police went door to door this week in Kansas City neighborhoods where they know such gunfire has occurred, based on data from the department’s ShotSpotter acoustic gunfire detection system.
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They were joined by the parents of Blair Shanahan Lane, an 11-year-old killed by a stray bullet five years ago. Together they spread a simple message: What goes up must come down. Firing guns inside the city limits is illegal.
The parents and police officers saw damage from random gunfire at nearly every home they visited. On one street, every single house had at least one bullet hole — one so large that police couldn’t determine what type of gun made it. Some residents said they hid in their basements on the night of July 4 to avoid the gunfire.
Even as the parents spoke with residents and showed them pictures of Blair, they could hear guns going off nearby. Most residents had long grown accustomed to it, Blair’s parents found. An older couple said they had been living in their Kansas City home for 60 years and could point to bullet holes, old and new, in the exterior. They considered their neighborhood quiet compared with some others.
“It breaks my heart,” said Blair’s mother, Michele Shanahan DeMoss. Blair had just lit a sparkler when a stray bullet mortally wounded her as she danced on her uncle’s lawn near Riss Lake in east Kansas City.
“I don’t think people really, really, comprehend that if the bullet hits your home, it can hit you,” DeMoss said.
In hundreds of conversations with Kansas City residents, no one has ever admitted shooting a gun in celebration, said Police Capt. Ryan Mills, who led the effort to educate residents this week. Many people wrongly think the bullets will be rendered harmless if they are fired in the air. Some tell police they are good marksmen or have weapons training.
But a bullet fired into the sky will come down with enough force to crush a person’s skull or penetrate their neck, Mills said. A bullet can travel hundreds of yards out of sight from the shooter.
The man convicted in Blair’s death, Aaron Sullivan, served 18 months in prison.
Mills said he hopes the combination of Blair’s story and the visit from police will make people think twice before firing guns this weekend.
The door-to-door visits were targeted around 18 locations where the Police Department’s ShotSpotter system located the sound of gunfire over the July Fourth weekend last year. Multiple shots were fired at each location. One recorded 21 gunshots.
As he knocked on doors near Flora Avenue, Mills stopped 16-year-old Mekai Kelly, who was passing by on the street. Kelly listened as Mills explained the dangers of celebratory gunfire and as Shanahan DeMoss talked about her slain daughter.
Kelly said he appreciated what the police and parents are trying to do.
“I’ve heard of that, stray bullets. It’s pretty sad.”