MILWAUKEE — Candles line the sidewalk outside of 13-year-old Nevaeha Ware’s home.
It’s an all too familiar ritual for her family. Just over three years ago, they did the same thing for her older brother who was also gunned down.
“The parents are not doing well,” Rosalind Henning, Ware’s great aunt said.
Police continue to investigate Ware’s shooting death. News of Ware’s death has city leaders upset at the cycle of violence that took her life.
“It’s tragic,” Reggie Moore with the Office of Violence Prevention said. “As a father, as the director of the Office of Violence Prevention, whenever we lose or hear about a child being injured or killed in the city, it should be heartbreaking for all of us.”
Moore points to issues of violence creating more violence for future generations. It’s why they created the Trauma Response Program to be sure to help those who could be most vulnerable.
"Exposure to violence increases the risk for further victimization or perpetration in the future,” Moore said. “We want to do everything we can to help families here but especially children.”
In its first five years, the Trauma Response Program has responded to 1,376 child referrals.
It’s an incredibly large number but it could be even higher. The program is still in its pilot phase and is only in full operation at two Milwaukee Police Districts.
“I was heartbroken to be quite honest,” Inspector Willie Murphy with the Milwaukee Police Department said. “When I found out her brother had died by gun violence as well, it is just sickening.”
Murphy was recently promoted after serving as Captain at District 7; one of the two districts participating in the program. He says he has witnessed many traumatic situations where innocent children are witnesses to the events. Oftentimes, Murphy would have to respond to the next call of the day, but he would hold on to the memory of the child, concerned over what would happen once they left.
“Trauma cuts deeper,” Murphy said. “You have to understand the significant impact it has on a young person’s life. You may not see that until years down the line. When dealing with young folks, there is a thought, how is this person going to be 10 years from now? Someone that’s going to be a problem in the criminal justice system long term? Prior to having a trauma response team, we didn’t have much to address those things. That’s the key to having a trauma response team. To be able to get in there at an early age and look beneath the surface. What is going on and address concerns so it doesn’t spill off into bad behaviors and people will have the opportunity to be successful in life.”
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service shows children who experience physical abuse are 51.8 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime than those who did not experience physical abuse. The trauma response program hopes to interrupt this cycle from continuing to try and stop the cycle of becoming the next victim or perpetrator.
“Families may not know how to respond,” Moore said. “If their child is having nightmares, based on what they saw or if they were present when a friend was killed or injured, those things have a lasting impact. Healing is a critical priority.”
Moore says first responders, Milwaukee Police and Fire or EMTs, are often the first people who see children after they experience trauma. Thanks to the trauma response program, they can refer these children to get help from counselors for free.
While officers like Inspector Murphy have been to scenes of violence in the past, this program helps the right people past the surface level issues to make change.
“The most we can do is put a Band Aid on top of a wound that really needs an antibiotic injection to get to the healing of the trauma that’s involved there,” Murphy said. “We’re not healing the family unit. We’re not healing the community. The continued cycle of violence continues to perpetuate itself.”
Milwaukee’s Common Council will vote on expanding the program next Tuesday. This way, every department will be participating. It’s something County Executive David Crowley is pushing for as well.
Ware’s death hit a little too close to home.
“When I heard about what happened to that young lady, it immediately hit me,” Crowley said. “I have a 13-year-old stepdaughter. All I could think about was my own household with three daughters.”
Crowley says this kind of problem isn’t just an issue for one community. A murder impacts the entire city.
“It’s about how we step up as a community to really get ahead of this,” Crowley said. “We all have a responsibility to step up and show solidarity and create a space against violence. If your neighbor's house is on fire, you don’t watch it burn. You put it out to help them have a house to live in but also so your house doesn’t catch on fire itself. We got to do something. This is a wakeup call for all of us.”
Now, the family is trying to figure out how to pay for another funeral. They've started a GoFundMe to help with expenses for a young girl who lit up their world.
"She had the biggest smile, the prettiest light brown eyes everybody loved her," said Henning.
The Office of Violence Prevention says first responders aren’t the only ones who can make referrals for children they believe have witnessed trauma. For more information, you can visit the Office of Violence Prevention website or to set up a time to meet with a Traumatic Response Team member, contact 414-257-7621. You can also contact Officer Monte Kirk at 414-935-7272.