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Current Trends Adolescent Homicide -- Fulton County, Georgia, 1988-1992

In Fulton County, Georgia (1990 population: 648,951), during 1988-1992, 12% of homicides occurred among persons aged less than or equal to 18 years, of whom 75% were adolescents aged 13-18 years (1). Recognition of homicide as the leading cause of death among adolescents in Fulton County has prompted planning of local surveillance, prevention, intervention, advocacy, and mentoring programs and antiviolence media campaigns. This report summarizes descriptive information for homicides of adolescents in Fulton County during 1988-1992 and addresses the use of this information for local prevention and intervention programs.

Data were obtained from death investigation records of the Fulton County Medical Examiner (FCME), death certificates, and birth certificates (of homicide victims who were born in Fulton County). FCME data were used to identify decedents to be included in the study, demographic information about the decedent, and location of the homicide. Death certificates provided information about the decedent's place of birth, county of residence, and occupational status. For decedents who were born in Fulton County, birth certificates were reviewed for mother's place of birth and for maternal age and marital status when the decedent was born. A map was used to divide Fulton County into 1-square-mile sectors, plot the location of each homicide, and compare the location of the homicide with the location of the decedent's residence.

Based on names listed in FCME records, death certificates were located for 106 of the 107 adolescent homicide victims during 1988- 1992. The number and rates of homicides increased with age Table_1. Most (89 {84%}) decedents were black males. Almost all (104 {98%}) decedents were classified by family members (usually the mother) as being of U.S. origin (i.e., an ancestor's foreign birthplace or nationality group was not specified); 87 (82%) were born in Georgia, and 76 (72%) were born in Fulton County. Ninety-six (91%) were born in urban areas (i.e., counties included in a metropolitan statistical area); 10 were born in rural areas or place of birth was unknown. At the time of their deaths, 85 (80%) were Fulton County residents, and 98 (92%) were residents of the metropolitan Atlanta area; two were residents of other Georgia counties, and six were residents of other states or residence was unknown. Of the 106 decedents, 71 (67%) were students; 16 (15%), employed; and 19 (18%), unemployed or had never worked.

Birth certificate data were available for all 76 decedents who were born in Fulton County Table_2; two decedents killed in separate incidents had the same mother. The mothers of 46 (61%) decedents were aged less than or equal to 20 years when the decedent was born, and 34 (45%) mothers were married at the time of the decedent's birth. Sixty-nine (91%) of the mothers were born in Georgia; 49 (64%) were born in Fulton County or the city of Atlanta.

Thirty-five (33%) of the 106 victims were killed in an area located in the same map sector as their place of residence (i.e., within 1.4 miles of home), while 59 (56%) were killed within 2.8 miles of home. Of the 106 homicides, 102 occurred in the incorporated areas of Fulton County (i.e., Atlanta, College Park, East Point, or Union City). Homicides were clustered in the central southwest and central northwest portions of the city of Atlanta. Reported by: R Hanzlick, MD, P Schilke, MD, Dept of Pathology, Emory Univ School of Medicine; Fulton County Vital Records Office, Fulton County Health Dept; Fulton County Medical Examiner, Atlanta. Surveillance and Programs Br, Div of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Violence is recognized as a public health emergency in Fulton County by the county Board of Commissioners (R. Michael Green, Fulton County Health Department, personal communication, August 29, 1994). The findings in this report will be used to assist in planning, implementing, and monitoring targeted prevention and intervention programs in Fulton County. Because these and previous findings in Fulton County indicate that most decedents and perpetrators of adolescent homicide were black males (1), prevention and intervention programs should be available for young black males. The high proportion of decedents who were students suggests that such programs might be school-based or associated with school activities. In addition, the substantial portion of young, single mothers suggests that programs could be integrated with other services for single parents and their children, including role-model mentoring programs.

The data also provide a basis for geographic location of neighborhood and other local community programs in selected areas of the county, particularly in the incorporated and inner-city areas of Atlanta. For example, detailed maps of locations where homicides occurred can assist law enforcement agencies, other local agencies, foundations, and prevention-oriented organizations in targeting precincts or zones for special efforts. The finding that a high portion of the decedents (and their mothers) were long-term residents in the community provides a basis for incorporating prevention programs into civic, social, and cultural activities and locally available services.

Interpretation of the findings in this study are subject to at least two limitations. First, the study was not designed to assess risk factors for homicide; as a consequence, for example, the high proportion of decedents who were students or born to young mothers cannot be interpreted to indicate that such persons are at higher risk for homicide than nonstudents or those born to older mothers. Second, the geographic clustering of deaths may reflect higher population densities in some areas or other factors and may not indicate increased risk for fatal or nonfatal violence.

Although death certificate data have been used previously to determine the geographic distribution of homicides in Fulton County (1), these findings refine understanding of this problem by providing additional information about the decedents, residences of the decedents and their mothers, and the location of the homicide. Poverty, lack of jobs, and other socioeconomic variables that underlie the elevated risk for young black males in Fulton County have not been evaluated in this study; however, other research indicates that these factors must be considered when addressing this public health problem. Other recent findings also support the strategies of integrating drug-abuse and homicide-prevention programs; developing programs that might influence the social interactions of adolescents away from home between 6 p.m. and midnight (1); and implementing measures to reduce fatalities involving firearms (1). Additional efforts to assist in the development of prevention and intervention programs include the need to evaluate victim characteristics, perpetrators' access to firearms (e.g., who owned the gun and where and when the perpetrator obtained it), and demographic and psychosocial characteristics of perpetrators, and the effectiveness of intervention programs.

Reference

  1. CDC. Homicides of persons aged less than or equal to 18 years -- Fulton County, Georgia, 1988-1992. MMWR 1994;43:254-5,261.



Table_1
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TABLE 1. Characteristics of adolescent homicide victims (n=106) -- Fulton
County (Atlanta), Georgia, 1988-1992
=============================================================================
Category          No.        Rate *       Category          No.      Rate *
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Age (yrs)                                Sex/Race +
  13               4         10.7          Male
  14               7         18.1            Black         89        93.4
  15              11         27.5            Other          5         9.7
  16              19         49.2          Female
  17              27         61.5            Black          9        11.5
  18              38         72.6            Other          3         6.6
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

* Per 100,000 persons per year.
+ Numbers for individual races other than black were too small for meaningful
  analysis.

Source: Fulton County Vital Records Office.
=============================================================================

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Table_2
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TABLE 2. Characteristics of mothers of adolescent homicide victims
(n=76) -- Fulton County (Atlanta), Georgia, 1988-1992
==================================================================================
Category                         No.         Category                          No.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maternal age (yrs)                           Mother's marital status
  when victim born                             at time of victim's birth
  13-15                          6            Married                          34
  16-20                         40            Not Married                      41
  21-25                         13            Unknown                           1
  26-30                         10
  31-35                          1           Mother's place of birth
  36-40                          5            Fulton County
  41-45                          1              or city of Atlanta             49
                                              Other Georgia County             20
                                              Other state                       7

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Source: Fulton County Vital Records Office.
==================================================================================

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