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Thousands of DC kids were exposed to gun violence in 2021. This group is working to stop the spread

The TRIGGER Project is hosting its second annual End Gun Violence Conference Wednesday afternoon at the MLK, Jr. Library.

WASHINGTON — With homicides again on the rise in D.C., and with more violence involving kids, one group is treating gun violence like a health crisis and working to stop the spread.

Tia Bell founded the TRIGGER Project after her own experience with gun violence.

“When I was 10 years old, my mom was a victim of gun violence, and she was shot in broad daylight in an area where I grew up," Bell said.

Her mom survived, but it left scars on Bell you can't see.

She got help, though, and was able to turn her "pain into purpose."

“I'm walking proof that if you meet a kid where they are and you support them, provide them with outlets and services, and again, just support, that you can actually protect a kid from being a perpetrator or victim of gun violence," she said.

RELATED: DC Peace Academy launched to train, support violence interrupters

Data showing how many D.C. kids are impacted by shootings reflects just how important that support is.

The DC Policy Center mapped it out.

“On average, when a homicide happened in DC [in 2021], there were about 2,800 kids that were nearby," executive director of the center, Yesim Sayin said.

Sayin said in areas that see more violent crime, that number can get up into the hundreds of thousands.

“The trouble with this kind of exposure to violent crimes is it's an adverse childhood experience," she said. "Kids carry these experiences with them for their lifetimes. And they can actually become physically ill if they're exposed to violent crime as children, they can experience mental health problems. So this is ultimately a health disparity.”

That's the key, Bell said, recognizing gun violence as a health crisis.

And it's the approach they're taking at the second annual End Gun Violence Conference Wednesday.

Part of Bell's mission is to help the community understand what prompts a shooter to pick up a gun -- understand their thinking and help change that moving forward.

At Wednesday's conference, she said there will be gun violence survivors speaking and roundtable discussions with other groups partnering with the TRIGGER Project to prevent gun violence.

“The year I was born, 434 people were murdered," Bell said. "So it's not that it's this new thing. It's just that we're trying to come together, convene and come up with a new approach, which includes public health.”

Because living by daily, weekly shootings is not healthy.

In its data analysis, the DC Policy Center said it also discovered that 80% of D.C. residents were within half a mile of a homicide in 2021. Some were within half a mile of 39 homicides -- with disparities by race and location.

The conference lasts from noon to 5 p.m. at MLK, Jr. Library Wednesday.

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