Update: This story was updated at 3:00 PM on Wednesday with information about the deceased child.
ST. LOUIS — LaFrance Johnson may have been only 12, but his family saw him going somewhere.
The sixth-grader from the Rockwood School District excelled in track and field, soccer, and other sports. He perused thick, intricate books from the library, asked probing questions and received commendations from his teachers for integrity, perseverance and commitment, his Aunt Arthurine Harris said.
“He had a star quality about him,” Harris said. “He was very charismatic, a natural born leader.”
LaFrance was murdered around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on the 5600 block of Summit Place in St. Louis when his 10-year-old brother accidentally shot him while he was playing with a gun.
Authorities later arrested a 36-year-old woman who possessed the weapon on suspicion of endangering the welfare of a child, police said. Police have not released details about the type of weapon involved or how the children came into possession of the weapon.
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LaFrance was the third child to be accidentally shot in recent days. On Friday, police said 12-year-old Paris Harvey accidentally shot her cousin, 14-year-old Kuaron Harvey, before accidentally shooting herself at a party on South 10th and Spruce Street.
Police said on Wednesday they had not identified the owner of the weapon in that case and made no arrests.
LaFrance’s death was a blow to his close-knit family, who, according to Harris, tried to keep the kids in a “bubble” to protect them from some of the perils and difficulties of growing up in St. Louis.
He took a bus every day from town to Selvidge Middle School in Ballwin as part of the area’s school desegregation program. The family took extra time to teach LaFrance and his siblings and cousins about black history, Harris said.
Harris kept copies of books LaFrance wrote and illustrated himself and hung his artwork on the walls to encourage creativity. She said the family tried to show their children that they could become anything they wanted in life.
“We wanted them to know that they could overcome their circumstances and not have to be restricted,” she said.
Harris called LaFrance’s death an “extraordinary accident” that everyone, including his mother, Katrina Thomas, and four siblings mourned.
Harris and Victoria Poynter, a cousin, would miss seeing LaFrance as a “typical 12-year-old boy,” who slept in late, made TikTok videos and played video games. And they would also grieve if they didn’t see him reach his potential.
“(LaFrance) would take our legacy and carry on,” Poynter said. “This house we’ve had since my grandmother struggled for it would still be there thanks to him.”
Poynter said LaFrance was like a brother to her son, 9-year-old Elijah Robinson, who is an only child but has seen several people close to him die in recent years.
Poynter said LaFrance taught her son to play football, box and trampolin. She said Elijah was heartbroken to experience another loss at a young age.
“When kids are this young and have to go through these tragedies at this age, I feel like I need to give my baby extra help,” she said. “He’s taking it hard.”
Harris called on lawmakers to strengthen gun laws to prevent accidental shootings.
“These weapons must be stopped,” she said. “If you’re not the police or high security, you shouldn’t have a gun. It’s reckless.’
Through March 15, at least 58 people, including six children, have been killed in St. Louis.
St. Louis officials released information on Wednesday about free gun locks being handed out in an ongoing effort to curb accidental shootings. People can pick up the free locks and learn how to use them at participating fire trucks, library facilities, and police stations.
Those with questions can call 314-533-3406.
“These recent shootings have devastated our entire city and we must take immediate action to protect our children,” Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said in a written statement. “If you have a gun in your house, be a responsible gun owner; keep firearms locked and unloaded, and grab a free gun lock to keep your loved ones safe.”
Correction: This story has been corrected to define the relationship between the arrested woman and the children.