The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A girl’s reaction to the Nationals Park shooting made the world look at D.C.’s gun violence problem

Faris Nunn, 8, center, her 4-year-old brother, King, and their father, Jim, enjoy the game at Nationals Park before a shooting happened outside the stadium on Saturday. (Courtesy of the Nunn family)

Eight-year-old Faris Nunn knows that millions of people have clicked on a video that shows her talking, but she doesn’t fully understand why.

She doesn’t fully understand why international media outlets have used her words in headlines or why strangers have shared them online.

She doesn’t fully understand why people see something interesting in what she sees as normal.

The girl’s mother, Lora Nunn, tells me this when we talk on a recent afternoon. In the past several days, she has heard from friends in Europe and Mexico who have seen the viral video of her daughter talking about the family’s recent experience at Nationals Park.

Nunn, her husband, Jim, their 4-year-old son, King, and Faris were at the game, sitting in the stands behind third base, on the night a burst of gunshots outside the stadium caused the crowd to scatter. In the initial moments, people feared an active shooter was among them. The family crawled under their seats and watched fans run in different direction. Sheltering in place, Nunn says, felt safer than risking the kids getting trampled.

That night, Faris didn’t talk to a reporter. No one in the family did. Nunn says it wasn’t until the next day that WUSA9 reporter Jess Arnold stopped the family as they walked by the stadium. It was national ice cream day and they were heading to get scoops from Kilwins.

Nunn, who was born in D.C. and raised in the area, describes feeling just as surprised as others to hear what her daughter said about the shooting when Arnold turned the mic to her.

“I didn’t know what was going on until I heard someone say, ‘Get down,’ so I just started to get down under the seats,” Faris says in the video that has now been viewed more than 4.4 million times. After Arnold asks Faris how she was feeling, the girl bites at her nails as she talks.

“It was my second shooting, so I was kinda prepared,” she says, “because I always am expecting something to happen.”

Second shooting. Prepared. Always expecting something to happen.

In a single sentence, Faris not only offered insight into what it means to be a child in the nation’s capital today, but also confirmed how the world views the country’s gun violence problem: as out of control. As a cycle of gunshots followed by trauma followed by bracing for more.

Faris’s words were translated into Spanish, French and other languages as media outlets in the United Kingdom, India and elsewhere ran stories about what she said. A piece published by the Republic World appeared under the headline, “DC Shootout: 8-year-old Says ‘I Was Kind Of Prepared’ For It, Leaves Twitter Terrified.”

For those who have long kept track of the city’s gun violence, it is tempting to shove the spotlight away from what happened at Nationals Park and focus it on those neighborhoods where gunfire has taken greedily, again and again, from families. Neighborhoods where children have given up on using playgrounds and where memorials too often feature stuffed animals and other reminders of a gone-too-soon child.

Just a day before two cars exchanged gunfire outside the stadium, injuring three people, including a fan who was waiting for an Uber, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was killed in a drive-by shooting in Southeast Washington. Four adults, including her mother, were also injured. The reward poster for information about the incident is gutting. It shows Nyiah’s small, beautiful face, smiling.

The spotlight should shine brightly on Nyiah. Just as it should shine on 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson, who was killed in a spray of bullets three years earlier as she headed toward an ice cream truck. Just as it should shine on 11-year-old Davon McNeal, who was shot to death when he went to grab ear buds and a cellphone charger from a relative’s residence. Just as it should shine on 11-year-old Karon Brown and 15-year-old Maurice Scott and the many other young people who have been killed in D.C. in recent years while just living their lives.

I have written about those children and I know, sadly, I will write about more.

An 11-year-old boy’s killing isn’t proof Black lives don’t matter to Black people. It’s proof of our collective failure.

But if we want to see the full toll of gun violence and find result-producing solutions, that spotlight also needs to shine on Faris and every other child who is growing up in the nation’s capital, bracing for the next round of gunfire.

Both the death of children and the fears they carry as a result of public shootings should anger us, should shame us, should move us to action.

Faris is 8 and she doesn’t fully understand why people are surprised to hear a girl talk about experiencing two shootings and expecting more, because she views that as a normal part of existence. That’s not okay.

The first shooting she experienced happened in November. The family was heading to a recreation center a few blocks from their home, which sits in a neighborhood where houses can cost more than $1 million. Nunn says they were going to a play group for Faris’s younger brother, and since the gathering was taking place outside, she figured Faris could spend the time on the playground.

They had been there about five minutes when they heard gunfire, Nunn says. She describes shoving her children under the playground equipment and staying there until officials opened up the rec center to families. She later learned that just yards away from where they hid a man was fatally shot.

“That first incident was really hard for her,” Nunn says of Faris. “She couldn’t sleep. She didn’t want to go outside. It was probably a couple of months before she wanted to even play in our backyard.”

On Saturday, the family ended up at Nationals Park because of Faris’s hard work. She had earned her family tickets through the MusicianShip, a youth development organization that offers music education programs.

“Baseball! Hoping storm holds off so we get our fireworks!” Nunn wrote on her Facebook page at 8:21 that night, before the shooting. She posted a photo showing Faris and King with snacks on their laps and their eyes focused on the field.

Two hours later, she posted another image. This one showed the electronic score board announcing that the incident was outside the stadium and asking fans to remain inside. “We are all fine,” she wrote.

Nunn says that her daughter speaks in a matter-of-fact way about what happened that night, but she knows that the two incidents have changed her sense of safety. “How could they not?” she says.

That night, Faris saw a woman near her bawl and wide-eyed grown-ups run. At one point, the family moved away from their section because it was closest to where the shooting happened. Nunn recalls what Faris told her as the family waited for information. Her daughter needed to go to the restroom, but not wanting to risk her family’s safety, she asked her mom if she should wet her pants.

Nunn assured her that they would be okay and the family made their way together to the restrooms.

When Nunn tells me this, I can’t help but think of my own 8-year-old child and what it would take for him to volunteer for that type of embarrassment. Just as when I saw Nyiah’s face, I couldn't help but picture my own 6-year-old son and all the curious questions and tight-armed hugs that would be lost with him.

Nunn describes her daughter as someone who loves people and makes friendships on playgrounds with children others don’t invite to play. She says she hopes her daughter’s impromptu words help shift at least a few minds when it comes to gun violence.

But like her daughter, she also speaks about shootings in a matter-of-fact way and recognizes what is more likely to come of this moment.

“There will be another shooting in a week,” she says, “and they will have forgotten about the girl who said, ‘I was prepared.’ ”

Read more from Theresa Vargas:

An 11-year-old boy’s killing isn’t proof Black lives don’t matter to Black people. It’s proof of our collective failure.

The girl who brought down a statue

‘Dear Khloe’: A Black girl hated her natural hair, and then 101 women spoke about finding beauty in theirs