Under the Gun: Indy’s Lost Boys

A teen and his best friend, dead. A grandmother who wants to know why their killers had guns in the first place.
Vernell Miller doesn’t have to watch the evening news to know gun violence is ravaging Indianapolis. For the 61-year-old grandmother, it has hit painfully close to home—and twice in the past three years.

In 2012, Glenn Beard, 56, shot Miller’s grandson, 13-year-old Jarrell Tucker, in the head about a month after the boy’s family moved to a new neighborhood on the near-east side. This past summer, Tucker’s best friend, Kayalleiujah Gibson, 16, was riding his bike in Miller’s own near-northside neighborhood when 17-year-old DeAngelo Hill allegedly gunned him down. Hill was also charged in the fatal shooting of another teenager. Two IMPD officers, David Moore and Perry Renn, have been shot and killed in the vicinity since 2011. “It seems like every other day, there’s an incident,” says Miller. “Shootings happen so frequently that folks in the community develop an apathy. That’s alarming to me.”

Also alarming, says Miller, is the fact that neither of the alleged shooters of her grandson and his friend were even supposed to have guns—in the first instance because he was a violent felon, in the second because he wasn’t old enough. Laws on who can have firearms and who can’t don’t seem to matter. “In my area, there is an excess of guns on the street—anybody can get one,” she says. She was recently talking about crime with a young man in her neighborhood. “Granny, you need a gun,” he told her. “I can get you one in two hours.” She declined.

Losing her grandson drove Miller to take up activism, and she currently works with Hoosiers Concerned about Gun Violence, a group that advocates for limiting the availability of firearms. Ultimately, though, she thinks the city needs to get serious about addressing the economic roots of violence in neighborhoods like hers. Her ZIP code, 46218, and the one where her grandson was shot, 46201, were Indy’s worst for gun homicides last year—and it’s no coincidence that the median household income in each is barely half the overall county median. “Do we need more jobs? Do we need more programs for youth?” she asks. “If it comes to your back door, you take up the cause. But if it’s just black kids killing each other, no one cares.”

Indianapolis is coming off one of its deadliest years ever. Under the Gun, from our February 2015 issue, offers a grim look at the violence killing our city.