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La Crosse community targets growing gun violence

LA CROSSE, Wis. - The La Crosse Police Department is calling it a frightening trend: The number of reported offenses involving a gun nearly doubled last year.

Three of the four people murdered in La Crosse last year were shot to death.

The mother of one of those victims spoke out at Wesley United Methodist Church during Sunday night's community conversation about gun violence.

"When you take a life, you don't just take one person's daughter, mother, friend. You take a community," said Sherry Hougom, whose daughter Sara was gunned down in her apartment last year.

Hundreds of candles glittered in the pews. The flames honored those affected by gun violence -- and sparked a conversation.

Hougom said she has thousands of happy memories of her daughter's life, but it's the memories she'll never get to have that hurt the most.


"I don't like to talk about how my Sara Rose was taken from me. It makes me too sad. Violence has personally touched my world. The effects are life-lasting and altering. They're indescribable," said Hougom.

It's a problem that's on the rise in La Crosse.

The number of offenses involving a gun reported to the La Crosse Police Department nearly doubled from 23 in 2011 to 43 in 2012.

"Well, in 2012 our community saw an increase in some strong-arm robberies, home invasion-type of robberies that were committed by -- I guess we'll have to call them a 'street gang,'" said La Crosse police Sgt. Randy Rank.

More children are getting into trouble with the law over guns. The number of juveniles arrested for weapon crimes in La Crosse jumped 50 percent last year.

"We could just huddle up in fear and arm ourselves as some have advocated doing. And that's a fearful response. But what about the hopeful?" said the Rev. Kent Johnson, chairman of the La Crosse Interfaith Justice & Peace Network.

Johnson said Sunday night's vigil brought together views from across the board on how to end gun violence.

"Part of the things we can do is listen to people who are gun owners and people who cherish that right," said Johnson. "But I also think there is a limit. There are some things that seem to be reasonable between hunting and war."

Sherry Hougom announced Sunday night she wants to start bringing Sara's story to local schools to begin a conversation with kids about the impact of gun violence.

Rank said it's also important that parents talk to their children about the problem.

A bill failed in Congress last week that would have tightened restrictions on gun ownership.

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