The number of high school-age shooting victims in Baltimore is decreasing for the first time in three years, a sign of progress in a city beleaguered by gunfire.

While shootings victimizing teens between ages 13 and 18 remain above pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, they have fallen sharply this year compared to the same time period in 2023, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis of police data.

Twelve teenagers in that age bracket were shot between Jan. 1 and March 15, compared to 34 during the same period a year ago. This year’s total so far is also half the 2022 total, which was another bleak year for young shooting victims.

Rates of gun violence among Baltimore’s young people rose in the years immediately following the pandemic. It reached an inflection point in 2023, a 10-year high-water mark for young shooting victims despite the city seeing its largest single-year decrease in homicides on top of a reduction in nonfatal shootings. The downward trend so far this year is cause for optimism among people like Kyla Liggett-Creel, a licensed clinical social worker, who are engaged with Baltimore’s at-risk youths.

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“I think this is not an anomaly,” said Liggett-Creel, the executive director of the Embrace Resource Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore. “I’m very optimistic,” she said.

Shootings and homicides across all age ranges are down so far in 2024 compared to the same period in 2023, but unlike last year, gun violence among the city’s young people is mirroring the larger trend.

Experts like Liggett-Creel attribute fewer shootings to an increased focus on connecting vulnerable teens to various employment programs, social services and with mentors. Known as “credible messengers,” these mentors tend to have lived experience with the criminal legal system and will share their stories and offer advice to help young people avoid some of the same pitfalls they made.

“We’ve been leaning into the idea we have to support, we have to remove barriers and then you will see the positive outcomes and that’s what we have happening,” Liggett-Creel said.

The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement made youth services one of its priorities last summer, hosting several events throughout the city.

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Longtime Edmondson-Westside High School principal Karl Perry retired from his role last June after a spring semester where five students were shot, including two fatally, in the first two months of the year. Perry, now head of the city principal’s union, said he thinks Mayor Brandon Scott and Gov. Wes Moore have taken a better approach to handling gun violence, with more focus on prevention than punitive punishments.

“In the past, we didn’t get efforts such as that,” Perry said. “I remember when there was a push to send state troopers into Baltimore City when [Former Gov. Larry] Hogan was around.”

Such a significant decrease in the number of young people shot year-over-year was unthinkable for Perry this time last year, a period he described as a “fog.”

“I couldn’t think that far in advance to see if there would be an improvement,” he said. “I just could not handle losing another child. I would’ve never imagined this.”

Both Liggett-Creel and Perry said long-term improvements are contingent on sustained funding for existing programs, many of which are funded by one-time federal pandemic aid dollars. It’s also possible that if Scott loses reelection — polling suggests the race is close between he and former Mayor Sheila Dixon — that the city’s gun violence prevention could change.

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Much of the past two years’ increase in young gunshot victims was driven by winter months with rates of violence that are comparable to summer months, when more people, regardless of age, are shot. With warm weather approaching, the number of shooting victims is likely to increase.

“It’s almost spring break, but after spring break it’s springtime and things become a little busier after springtime,” Perry said.

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