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Woman who lost grandson to accidental shooting teams up with SLMPD to push for more gun locks

By Caroline Hecker

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — Four children were killed in accidental shootings in St. Louis in 2022, a number Francine Strain hopes to make zero.

Strain’s grandson, 12-year-old Lefrance Johnson, was killed in North St. Louis last March after his 10-year-old brother found a loaded gun and shot him.

“He said he didn’t think it was real,” said Strain. “When they don’t properly know how to handle firearms…he picked up and…it happened.”

Strain said her family have experienced a wide range of emotions, at first angry with each other and Johnson’s aunt, Aja Johnson, who told police the gun belonged to her. She has been charged with Endangerment of a Child Resulting in Death.

“He has four brothers,” said Strain. “We need to be there for them and help get them involved or sports or other things to keep them busy.”

On what was supposed to be Johnson’s 13th birthday, his family held a balloon release and handed out more than 100 gun locks in an effort to help prevent other families from suffering a similar tragedy.

“We don’t want to forget about him. We want to do something that could help someone else,” she said. “While we’re helping someone else to save another child’s life, it’s helping us as well.”

Johnson is one of four kids killed in the City of St. Louis in an accidental shooting last year, according to SLMPD. There were nine total incidents, five of which were non-fatal. So far in 2023, there have been two non-fatal accidental shootings involving minors.

“Days should be gone where you just put your guns down on a table or a drawer where kids, curious as they are, can get them,” said Maj. Ryan Cousins of SLMPD. “Lafrance’s death kind of became the springboard of everything we decided to do.”

The department teams up with various community organizations and campaigns such as “Lock It For Love” put on by Women’s Voices Raised For Social Justice.

“My simple question is, do you have an unsecured gun in your home or car,” said Karen Cloyd, chairwoman of the Common Sense Gun Solutions Committee for the group. “There’s really probably no such thing as a true hiding place.”

One week before Johnson’s death in March 2022, a 12-year-old and 14-year-old were killed in what police deemed a murder-suicide. Police said an investigation revealed the 12-year-old was playing with a gun found in the home and shot the 14-year-old before accidentally shooting herself.

“Even though it’s unfortunate that you are going through this guilt process and lost a loved one, we will charge you because how else will we send the message?” said Maj. Cousins. “If we find neglect is involved, we are charging adults involved.”

Gun locks can be picked up for free at St. Louis Metropolitan Police Headquarters as well as its patrol stations and city fire stations. In addition, several of the St. Louis Library branches offer them at no charge.

News 4 is tracking all homicides and non-fatal shootings in the City of St. Louis in 2023. The map has a specific category for victims under 18. As of Wednesday, February 8, seven shooting victims fit into that category. Two of them died.

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