Using Instagram to capture the emotional weight of Philadelphia gun violence

Members of the Cox family mourn the loss of Terrance “Bird” Cox. Bird, 25, who had no police record, was shot and killed near a Chinese takeout down the street from his house in North Philadelphia. Police described the killing as an “execution-style” ambush.

“You know it’s us today, but tomorrow it could be any of y’all,” Terrance “Bird” Cox’s father, Keith Lyons, told 1,000 people at the vigil for his son. Cox, 25, was shot and killed down the street from his house in North Philadelphia. “He was a good kid, never had any problems with him,” his father said. During the vigil, weeping friends and family placed teddy bears and candles next to the China King takeout near where he was killed.

The vigil for Terrance Cox is one the city of Philadelphia has seen replicated dozens of times for slain residents throughout 2014. Beginning in May, photographer Kevin Cook began documenting one of Philadelphia’s largest social concerns: gun violence. In 2014, the city is on pace for an annual homicide rate of 14.8 per 100,000. Second is Chicago, which is on pace for an annual rate of 12.6 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to year-end data by the Philadelphia Police Department. Cook’s photos examine what happens to the victims, families, friends and those who managed to survive being shot, carrying with them deep emotional and physical scars. Cook visited crime scenes and vigils where he found himself using his iPhone as much as his DSLRs. Using Instagram, his camera phone became a stealth tool that he was able to wield to document human tragedy and the underbelly of human behavior — but also, specifically, a segment of the city overwhelmed by violence and ensuing grief.

“Ultimately, I am hoping these images will enlighten the public, and more importantly the youth of Philadelphia,” Kevin says of his photos. “Although I met many grieving families, I was often thanked for giving their loved ones a voice.”

All photos by Kevin Cook.