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Young survivors of gun violence express themselves through photography with 'Shoot This, Not That'

Posted: 1:29 AM, Jan 25, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-25 01:54:50-05

CINCINNATI — Fifteen-year-old Khial Davis left home July 26, 2019, to pick her sister up from work. They came back to a crime scene.

Their uncle, 26-year-old Tyrell Gill, had been shot. He died the next morning at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center while Davis and her family waited outside, hoping for good news.

She struggled in the aftermath, she said Friday night. A unique seven-week program sponsored by the Cincinnati Police Department helped her and other young survivors of gun violence regain their sense of stability by learning photography.

“I had to kind of re-find myself,” she said. “I feel stronger. Not alone.”

And on Friday night, she and the other 20 participants dressed up to attend a Hollywood-style premiere for “Shoot This, Not That,” a documentary featuring their pictures.

Sgt. Jennifer Mitsch said the project captures the children’s journeys as they connect with each other and learn to express themselves through photography. Every participant had lost a family member to gun violence — an early trauma statistically linked to struggles later in life if they don’t receive help dealing with it.

“We know that without a targeted intervention, kids that have been exposed to violence are likely to either pick up a gun themselves one day or end up in the juvenile justice system,” she said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

Twelve-year-old Kassidy Walton felt loss twice over in less than a decade. Her mother, Kelli Walton, died in a shooting in 2010. Her 16-year-old brother, Eric Shields, was shot to death Aug. 18, 2019.

Their pictures were on display in the auditorium where police screened the documentary.

“My brother, he really thought he could dance,” she said. “He was just funny. He loved to play basketball.”

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The participants were shy around each other the first time they met and picked up their cameras, Mitsch said. She found teaching them to express their unique perspectives with photography made them better communicators, full stop.

“The more they used their voice with their camera, the more their actual voice came out with each other,” she said.

She hopes to continue the program in the future, she added. Seeing the children dressed up, outgoing and excited to attend the event was her proof it works.

Walton, fewer than six months distant from her brother’s death, said she was happy to have found people who understood her experience.

“Sometimes you feel like ain’t nobody there for you,” she said. “But there really is people there for you.”