Source AP ©

Britain shocked: 11-year-old boy shot dead

The killing of the 11-year-boy shocked the whole nation, which made Britons confront the problems of its troubled youth.

Rhys Jones, who had been kicking a soccer ball around with friends Wednesday night, died from a gunshot in the back of the neck - reportedly fired by one of two youths.

Pictures of the blue-eyed boy and of his agonized mother, Melanie, featured on the front pages of most national newspapers Friday. "Just what has gone wrong with our country?" the Daily Express said on its front page.

"Our son was only 11, our baby," his mother said in an interview replayed constantly on television stations Friday. "This should not happen, this should not be going on."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith choked back tears in television interviews Thursday and declared the government was seeking answers to the problem of youth crime.

"One of the things I am talking about with the prime minister (Gordon Brown) is where are people getting guns from? How are they getting here?"

Britain outlawed the possession of handguns in 1997 in response to the massacre of 16 children.

Nonetheless, guns have continued to kill, with a recent peak of 97 gunshot deaths in 2001-2002. There were 50 such deaths in 2005-2006, according to the most recent government data.

Police arrested two youths, aged 14 and 18, on Thursday but released them on bail within hours. They said they were still looking for a slim white youth, aged 13 to 15, and appealed for the public's help in identifying the killer.

Police say there is no indication as to why the child was targeted because he was not known to belong to any gang. However, he might have been a victim of mistaken identity, a police official said while speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Young children, neighbors and parents in the middle class community where he lived streamed to the place where he died on Friday. Many cards bore the simple question: Why?

"Good night and God bless, sleep tight," said the message which accompanied one bouquet near the Fir Tree pub in the working class Croxteth area of Liverpool.

"When I look up to the sky and any tears that I cry, I will think of you," said another note from one of the victim's friends. "Sleep peacefully my great mate."

Violence among young Britons is most often centered in bleak, gang-ridden neighborhoods with high unemployment. Killings of young people have drawn particular attention recently.

In London alone this year, 18 young people have been slain - 11 of them stabbed and seven shot. James Andre Smartt-Ford, 16, was at an ice rink when he was shot dead Feb. 3. Three days later, 15-year-old Michael Dosunmu was killed by gunmen who broke into his family home.

Some experts say youths have become desensitized to violence, and see it as an easy way out of difficult situations.

Anthony Stevens, a former adviser to the European Commission on Community Safety, said youths see guns and knives as a means of solving problems.

"What we find is that younger kids are finding it a glamorous life to be involved with gangs and they are emotionally and intellectually too immature to understand what they are getting into," he said.

Uanu Seshmi, a south London youth worker dealing with violent teens, said knife and gun crime has become so severe it should be classed as a public health issue.

"They are traumatized because of the violence they face every day and they don't have the skills to deal with it," Seshmi said. "It means young people are problem-solving using guns and knives."