By Kerria Weaver
Terricka Parks got a phone call on April 8 that turned her world upside down: Her 7-year-old son was dead.
Draquine Floyd Jr., a first-grader, was visiting his great-uncle’s home in the Robeson County town of Fairmont when he found a loaded gun and accidentally shot himself.
More than two months later, Parks remembers that call from a family member like it was yesterday.
“I kept asking, ‘What’s going on?’ and he just kept saying, ‘You need to hurry up and get here,’” Parks recalled. “I kept repeating myself – ‘What’s going on?’ – and then that’s when they told me what happened.”
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper mentioned Draquine’s death in announcing a new gun-safety initiative this month. NC S.A.F.E (Secure All Firearms Effectively) provides information about how to lock and store guns and includes a map of safe storage locations across the state.
The rate of firearm deaths among people under 18 more than doubled from 2019 to 2021 in North Carolina, according to the governor’s office. Guns are now the No. 1 cause of injury-related deaths of children in the state.
“There is an urgent need for North Carolinians to safely secure their firearms in order to decrease childhood deaths, decrease firearm thefts, and increase the safety of homes and communities,” Cooper said in a news release.
Gun violence increased across the nation during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of children killed by gunfire jumped 50% between 2019 and 2021, according to the Pew Research Center.
Robeson County has long struggled with gun-related incidents and consistently has among the highest violent crime rates in the state.
Sixteen people under 18 have been charged with shooting offenses in Robeson County in the past 12 months, according to Sheriff Burnis Wilkins. Eight have been charged with possessing guns, he said, and two guns have been found on school campuses during that time.
Wilkins said parents and guardians should teach children about the dangers of guns. It’s common for kids to assume a gun is a toy, he said.
“Storing firearms responsibly, in your home and vehicle, is the number one way to help prevent firearms accidents, theft and misuse,” Wilkins told the Border Belt Independent in an email.
Draquine’s great-uncle was charged with failure to secure a firearm to protect a minor and was released on a $10,000 bond, according to media reports.
Parks, 30, said her son was a sweet and friendly child who always had a smile on his face. He enjoyed playing outside and was a gamer who often played Roblox and Fortnite on his Xbox.
Godwin Heights Baptist Church presented every student in Draquine’s class at Rowland Norment Elementary School with a scholarship to attend the church’s summer sports camp, the school district announced in May. Draquine’s two brothers also attend the school.
“My life has definitely changed,” Parks said. “Nothing is the same.”
NC S.A.F.E. was announced two months after Cooper, a Democrat, said he was creating a statewide Office of Violence Prevention.
“This new office will help coordinate the efforts to reduce violent crime, tackle both intentional and careless gun injuries and deaths, and work to keep people safe,” he said in the news release.
Parks said it’s up to adults to keep guns away from children.
“I feel like no child should know that their parent owns a weapon,” she said. “It should not be visible, it always should be put up and secured properly.”