1st charges filed in string of child homicides in St. Louis


ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man is charged with fatally shooting a 15-year-old who investigators say was backing away from him with his hands raised in the first criminal case filed after a string of recent child homicides in St. Louis that have drawn attention to gun violence in Missouri.

Joseph Renick, 54, was jailed on $500,000 bond after being charged Thursday with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and unlawful possession of a firearm in the death of Sentonio Cox. No attorney is listed for him in online court records.

Sentonio is the latest of at least 13 children killed by gunfire in St. Louis this year, leading the mayor to demand changes in gun laws and for hundreds of people to turn out Wednesday for a town hall meeting. Renick is white and Sentonio, like most if not all of the other child victims, is black. Officials didn’t immediately indicate whether they suspect race was a factor in the shooting.

The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus called on lawmakers to take up gun violence in St. Louis and Kansas City during a special legislative session planned for September, but Missouri Gov. Mike Parson rejected the request this week. Meanwhile, Kansas City leaders have approved two ordinances aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of minors.

At a news conference Friday, faith and community leaders in St. Louis urged Parson to take action to address the gun violence. They asked the governor to call a special session to allow municipalities to enact their own gun laws; to implement emergency state funding for at least $2 million for programs to address violence; and to call an emergency meeting of community leaders before the veto session.

A St. Louis police detective wrote in the probable cause statement for Renick’s arrest that Sentonio was backing away from Renick with his hands raised Sunday morning when Renick shot him in the head. The statement said Renick had a prior felony conviction for nonpayment of child support but provided no other information about what led to the shooting. Missouri law does not allow those convicted of a felony to own firearms.

Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, said she couldn’t comment beyond what is in the document. She says the investigation is ongoing.

Sentonio’s mother, Roxzyanna Edwards, who lost another son to gun violence, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week that said she went searching for Sentonio after her nephew woke her up. He told her that the two had been walking home when they heard gunfire. Her nephew ran, then realized Sentonio wasn’t with him.

“I found my baby laying face down, shot in the head,” Edwards said. “It was really dark, but as the sunlight beamed up. God showed me he was right next to me.”

Gardner, meanwhile, has been facing criticism on social media for not charging 23-year-old Malik Ross in the killing of 7-year-old Xavier Usanga earlier this month as he played in the backyard with his sisters. Federal prosecutors have said that Ross stole $50,000 from his employer as part of a plan to flee the city, believing himself responsible for the shooting.

During a federal court hearing held on Tuesday to determine if Ross will remain behind bars until trial on the stealing charge, police Detective John Anderson said Ross called his aunt after the Aug. 12 shooting. Ross told his aunt that he “killed that boy” and needed help getting out of town, Anderson said. Ross told police he didn’t mean to shoot at Xavier and never saw him, Anderson said. He did see someone on a nearby porch with a gun, and heard a shot, Anderson said, adding, “It was them or me,” at one point during the questioning.

Gardner said Thursday in a statement that her office is “unable to determine who is legally responsible for the death of Xavier.” She said her office has asked police to investigate further.

Federal public defender Bevy Beimdiek, Ross’ lawyer, declined to comment Thursday.

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