Six children witnessed a shooting while they were waiting for their school bus on January 25 in Oxon Hill, Maryland, the Associated Press reports.
No child was injured, but a woman was allegedly shot by a 42-year-old man, Roland Eugene Simms, in what police are calling a domestic dispute that turned violent. Mr Simms has surrendered to police and has been charged with attempted murder, the AP reported.
The children were reportedly all students at Forest Heights Elementary.
Exposure to neighborhood violence can negatively affect children not only psychologically but also at the cellular level, according to a study published this month in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The rate of domestic violence was significantly and inversely associated with a decrease in mean telomere length by 0.007 for each additional report of domestic violence in a 500-m radius of a child’s home. The rate of violent crime was significantly associated with a decrease in mean telomere length by 0.006 for each additional report of violent crime in a 500-m radius of a child’s home.
Telomeres, structures on the ends of chromosomes, are involved in cell division, growth, and repair. They protect the ends of your chromosomes, mainly by preventing one chromosome from sticking to another, but don’t have any genetic information themselves.
If your telomeres aren’t functioning properly, possibly because they’re too short or too long, some cell repair mechanisms may not function normally either, elevating the risk of diseases including cancer and an abnormal cell aging process. Dysfunctional telomeres are found in cells that keep growing even with broken chromosomes—normally, the DNA checkpoints keep these cells from reproducing.
The reduction in telomere length seen in children exposed to higher levels of neighborhood violence could result from stress that domestic and other violence adds to a child’s life. In the Oxon Hill shooting, it wasn’t reported whether any of the children were related to the shooter or victim, but they were all witnesses to neighborhood domestic violence.
“Individuals themselves can examine the broader social and physical environment of their neighborhood and consider what role it plays in their lives—shaping behavior, increasing disorders, or bringing something positive to the neighborhood,” the study’s lead author, Katherine Theall, associate professor in the department of community health sciences at Tulane University in New Orleans, said in a press release about her ongoing research.
“If the role is a negative one, then individuals might consider what steps can be taken to help change the environment or how to become more resilient in such an environment,” she added.