‘Our city should not accept this violence’: First Friday shooting should be wake-up call

The hearts of every Kansas Citian were shattered Friday by the senseless murder of a young woman, an innocent bystander, attending the First Friday arts event downtown.

Erin Langhofer, 25, died after she was shot near 18th and Main streets. Like so many others who had gathered in the Crossroads Friday night, she and her boyfriend were enjoying the festive monthly event on a warm summer evening when a fight broke out.

As with too many other tragedies in our community, someone mindlessly wielded a gun and fired. A stray bullet struck Erin in the head.

Pastor Adam Hamilton of Resurrection Church tweeted that Erin was the daughter of a pastor at the Leawood church. “I’m asking for your prayers and care for Resurrection Pastor of Recovery Ministries, Tom Langhofer, his wife Marci and daughter Katheryn on the death of their daughter, Erin,” Hamilton wrote.

We join Pastor Hamilton’s plea. But tears and prayers are just the beginning.

In the days to come, our community must act with renewed, common purpose: The scourge of gun violence must be swept from our streets. No other task is more important. Nothing comes close.

That means more mental health counseling. Teaching conflict resolution in every school. More police. Effective prosecution and punishment. Increased cooperation from witnesses and neighbors. And it means a demand — not a request, but a demand — for sensible gun legislation in Missouri.

We must be clear: Erin’s death is a grievous tragedy, but so is every other act of murderous violence on our streets. Mayor Quinton Lucas made that point Saturday in a news conference and on Twitter.

“Heartbroken to read about the woman shot and killed last night near 18th & Main, as I was to read about the man killed near 32nd & Indiana Thursday,” Lucas wrote. “My condolences to their families. There’s no work more important than avoiding future tragedies like these.”

Lucas, who was sworn in as mayor on Thursday, lamented that in his first two days on the job, there had been two homicides in Kansas City — a pattern that simply cannot continue.

On Saturday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker charged 18-year-old Deon’te Copkney with second degree murder, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon in connection with the First Friday shooting.

Why would anyone feel the need to bring a weapon to First Friday?

“I think we have a culture of violence,” Police Chief Rick Smith said. “I think in some areas, in some households, in some neighborhoods, violence is acceptable. ... That’s what needs to change.”

Yes, and that work must intensify immediately. Kansas Citians should not be forced to live in fear of gun violence, at 18th and Main or anywhere else.

Some gun-rights activists insist weapons are needed for self-protection. But how could Erin have protected herself from a stray bullet? No one could.

The courageous Kansas City police officers who chased down and apprehended the suspect were on the scene almost immediately, but their presence at First Friday did not prevent the killing of an innocent young woman.

That’s why reasonable gun laws are essential.

Lucas and others said Saturday that no single strategy will work. He’s right. But Kansas City leaders and law enforcement officials don’t have the option of throwing their hands in the air and giving up. Every possible solution must be tried, relentlessly.

As Lucas said, we can’t just resign ourselves to living with this violence.

In a statement Saturday, Erin’s family showed extraordinary grace and courage in the face of this unimaginable heartbreak.

“We are devastated about the loss of our daughter Erin, and the lives that will be impacted by her death, including the life of the young man that pulled the trigger,” family spokesman Michael Eagan said.

All of our lives are diminished by violence. We must use Erin’s murder, and the other violent crimes that are tearing this city apart, to redouble efforts and finally end the bloodshed in Kansas City.

As Chief Smith said on Saturday, “Our city should not accept this violence.”