James Starks

James Starks appeared Monday in Meridian municipal court before Judge Robbie Jones.

A week of gunplay in Meridian that left three people dead and two hospitalized – including children among the victims – serves as a reminder that while the Second Amendment may give us the right to bear arms, not everyone is up to that responsibility.

A gun mishap left a 9-year-old Meridian girl hospitalized and scarred after she was accidentally shot by her 8-year-old brother Tuesday evening. Thankfully she is recovering and improving.

Police say the children, along with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old were left alone in the home without adult supervision. Police also say there were previous reports of children being left alone at the same Ninth Avenue address.

Police continue to investigate the circumstances, but we are troubled on a couple of levels, including children being left alone and an unsecured weapon in the home.

A month ago, our special report, “No One Noticed,” attempted to provide insight into how a child could fall through the cracks. It followed the death of 5-year-old Jakie Toole when adults responsible for his care failed him.

Investigations into Tuesday’s accident are incomplete, but this incident serves as yet another reminder of how all agencies, family members and the community need to be vigilant where children and other vulnerable people are concerned.

If you see something concerning, report it.

Sadly, this was the second accident involving children and a gun this week. Two teenage brothers were playing with a gun on Sunday afternoon on 25th Avenue when a 15-year-old was shot by a 16-year-old, Meridian police said.

If you don’t have a gun lock, especially with children around the house, consider the Meridian Police Department’s offer to provide one without charge.

Less than a day after the teenager was killed, Tatanisha Berry, 30, was found dead early Monday morning in a Meridian motel room. A friend who tried to flee was found shot in the motel office and remained hospitalized on Friday.

The man police suspect in these shootings, James Starks, 30, was Berry’s estranged boyfriend, police said.

On Jan. 4, Berry reported to police that Starks choked her and late last week he was charged with misdemeanor stalking and also taken into custody on a domestic violence choking warrant (aggravated assault), according to police.

After a discussion between the detective investigating the case and Meridian City Court Judge Robbie Jones, they determined there was not enough evidence to support the aggravated assault charge, Meridian Police Capt. John Griffith said Wednesday at a news conference.

Starks was released and had no further contact with police until he turned himself in after Monday’s shootings, police said.

“There’s nothing that could have prevented it from happening Monday,” Police Chief Benny Dubose said at Wednesday’s news conference. “Even if he had been charged with a felony aggravated assault domestic, he could have bonded out and therefore had the same availability to this victim as he did anyway. It was a choice he made, unfortunately, and a choice he has to live with at this point.” 

Still, we hope more can be done when so many homicides are crimes of passion that might be prevented if only there wasn’t access to a weapon that can take a life in an instant.

Hardly a day goes by that a “domestic” incident isn’t reported to local law enforcement, and there’s no law on Mississippi books that would allow for the removal of a weapon from those homes.

In the meantime, Griffith urged anyone dealing with a domestic violence issue to call the Meridian Police Department or The Care Lodge at 601-482-8719.

The week’s second homicide took place at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on 29th Avenue. Rodney Harris, 31, was apparently ambushed while he was getting out of his car and returning home, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. A suspect has not been identified.

These are all separate incidents, accidental and intentional, with different causes and maybe none were preventable. That shouldn’t stop us from trying.

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