The two boys were brothers and best friends, their father said, teenagers guffawing in a basement bedroom as they played with a gun no one knew they had. Last Thursday night, police say, it went off and shot Michael Miller, 16, in the chest, killing the popular high school football player. Now Miller’s 15-year-old stepbrother faces manslaughter charges. The shooting was the second in four days involving youths in neighborhoods south of Seattle, and contributed to a creeping suspicion among some public health professionals that the area might be seeing a new wave of youth violence.
Though year-to-year data can show spikes, as opposed to significant trends, a recent increase in gunshot deaths among youth troubles Tony Gomez, injury prevention program manager at the King County Department of Public Health. In 2003, he said, there were three — or 6 percent of all firearm deaths investigated by the King County Medical Examiner. The following year, that number spiked to eight — accounting for 17 percent of all gunshot deaths. Public health officials are awaiting a similar analysis for 2005. “We are starting to hear more cases like this,” Gomez said. “There’s cause for concern.”