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Community leaders host discussion about gun violence in Louisville, Southern Indiana

Flowers and memorial signs sit on the stairs leading to an Old National Bank where a shooter killed five people.
Aprile Rickert
A memorial outside Old National Bank in downtown Louisville, where a gunman killed five people April 10. Health leaders and law enforcement in Southern Indiana and Louisville met this week to talk about how gun violence is affecting communities.

Health leaders and law enforcement from Southern Indiana and Louisville met this week to talk about how rising gun violence is affecting local communities. It comes in the days after two mass shootings in Louisville, and after multiple Indiana schools received threats of violence.

Local leaders representing Louisville and Southern Indiana say anxiety from violence and threats is impacting the mental health of community members — including students who experience it. They say improved communication is needed to help prevent future incidents and heal from gun violence that’s affected the area in recent weeks.

More than 10 people have been fatally shot in Louisville in the past two weeks, including in two mass shootings at Old National Bank and Chickasaw Park.

Police have also investigated threats at several Southern Indiana schools, made by students and outside sources.

Health officials and law enforcement hosted a virtual meeting this week to talk about how rising gun violence is affecting local communities.

A report released in January by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center shows there were 173 mass attacks in public places in the country between 2016 and 2020, the majority of them involving firearms.

During the meeting, Jeffersonville Police Maj. Josh Lynch said what stands out to him from that report is the large number of cases in which the attacker had made direct or indirect threats. He said that shows the importance of taking the threats seriously.

“How many of them could have been prevented if someone felt confident or comfortable to speak up?” he said, adding the number can be cut down “if we normalize reporting.”

That could mean telling someone about a threat made on social media or communicated otherwise. Indiana is also one of multiple states with a “red flag” law on the books. Though rarely used, these laws can be invoked to temporarily or permanently take firearms from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

“It's not something that we take lightly,” Lynch said. “When there's a situation that we utilize this red flag law, it is a very serious situation. And the officers believe that it's a life-saving measure.”

People can also petition to get a person hospitalized for 72 hours under emergency detention orders.

But it’s not just about taking a threat seriously enough to act. Tish Frederick is the founder of Beautiful as You Are, a nonprofit aimed at encouraging and inspiring young people. The group works with students in Louisville and Southern Indiana communities where she said there tends to be less trust in police.

“So when you think about the statistics and Louisville and all the shootings that are happening right now, that's really what our kids are afraid of,” she said. “They know who have the guns, they know who are out there doing the killings, they know who shot who, they're not talking because they're afraid.”

Frederick said establishing better communication within schools and communities could be a way to help. That includes having police at schools not just when there is trouble, but as a “positive presence where the kids have an opportunity to ask questions to build that trust.”

She added young people are struggling due to the violence. Following the mass shooting at Old National Bank last Monday where six people including the shooter died, Frederick surveyed students.

“I just asked them, ‘Do you all feel safe?’” she said. “Some of them got emotional, some of them were like, ‘Absolutely not, I’m so scared I hate coming to school.’ They never know who’s a loose cannon. It’s just so much going on.”

Misty Gilbert is the executive vice president and chief operations officer at LifeSpring Health Systems in Southern Indiana. She said it is important to establish communication within families, too, so people feel safe enough to tell someone if they hear or see something concerning and to talk about how they’re feeling.

“You want to reassure them that they're going to be OK, you want to validate their feelings and their fear or their concerns,” Gilbert said. “But at the same time, you don't want your children to live in fear and stop doing the things that they need to do on a daily basis.”

Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel works in the emergency departments at Clark Memorial Health in Jeffersonville and U of L Health in downtown Louisville.

He said the rise in violence nationally is something he’s felt at the local level.

“We did not have to enact any special protocol to handle that, because that's something numbers-wise that we see on a relatively frequent basis,” he said of the Old National Bank shooting. “We saw a similar number of gunshot wounds three or four days later during a 24-hour period.”

Two people were killed last weekend during a mass shooting at Chickasaw Park. Several other people have also been shot, some fatally, since then in Louisville.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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