INDIANAPOLIS — For eight years since DeAndra Dycus’ son was critically injured in a shooting, she’s worked to be a voice for him and countless others, and now, she’ll lead a new initiative to support even more people on a city-wide scale.
Dycus was just announced as manager of non-fatal victim advocacy and support, which will be housed within the Aggravated Assault Branch of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).
“It’s like the advocacy work and the support that I’ve been able to create in the community through my own organization is coming full circle,” said Dycus.
In Feb. 2014, her son DeAndre Knox, then 13 years old, was shot while attending a birthday party.
A stray bullet entered the home where the gathering was being held on Indy’s northwest side, striking Dre in the back of the head. He is paralyzed and unable to talk, but Dre’s smile says everything you need to know: he’s a fighter.
Dycus founded Purpose 4 My Pain, a non-profit dedicated to curbing gun violence in the community, not long after Dre’s shooting. She works to help support families and show them that they’re not alone in their grief and healing.
“When Dre was in the hospital, I remember asking, God show me purpose for so much pain and here it is,” said Dycus. “Now I’m being able to really be in this role, boots on the ground, supporting families and making that connection.”
To create this position and support its efforts to help those impacted by nonfatal shootings navigate resources, a grant was applied for through the Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS). It was approved and is being funded through American Rescue Plan dollars allocated to the city of Indianapolis.
The city invested $650,000 for the first three years of the program, which will be used for staffing and equipment towards its successes, and after that, the department will decide next steps.
On top of the existing efforts of the IMPD Victim Assistance Unit, Dycus joins IMPD to help connect the community with services, with a laser-focused approach on supporting nonfatal shooting victims and survivors.
“What we’re trying to accomplish here is an extension of Victim Assistance,” said Deputy Chief Kendale Adams.
When looking at the number of nonfatal shootings per day, Adams said, that number appears to average about three. That means an estimated 600 to 700 people each year survive shootings across the city, he added.
“There wasn’t a lot of support around non-fatals in connecting the dots to what I call break the cycle of violence, because those individuals survive and we have an opportunity to do something with the next portions of their lives so to speak,” said Adams.
While the Victim Assistance Unit already helps support victims of all crimes against persons, including sex crimes, domestic violence, homicides, and more, Adams said, they realized there just isn’t enough staff to support the number of nonfatal shootings they see.
“When you think about the number that we’re dealing with, the fact that those survive, the fact that our detectives’ clearance rate are really low on that side, for a number of reasons, but one of those is because there’s this perceived lack of trust,” said Adams.
He added, “so, what better way to try to improve that and the relationship with the community and hopefully get these victims to break the cycle of violence and get them trauma-informed care than with people who have lived experience?”
Victim Assistance Manager Lisa Brown said trauma-informed care is a priority of their unit, which works within the Criminal Investigations Division.
“I think it’s so important to meet people where they are and recognizing that the trauma of one incident, it may be preceded by other trauma,” said Brown.
“Just by them focusing on the aggravated assault and Chief said, maybe we can break the cycle of violence,” Brown added.
Like the Victim Assistance Unit advocates, Dycus will work to connect families she meets through her work with IMPD with resources, whether it be a support group or home health resources, and said trauma-informed care and therapy will be at the top of their referrals.
For Dycus, this new effort is personal because she also knows what it feels like to be looking for places to turn after a loved one suffers a traumatic gunshot injury.
“When my son was shot, no one reached out. There was nothing there for us and I had to go on this journey of self-discovery, self-discovery with DeAndre. He couldn’t talk,” said Dycus. “Here I was – how do I get my son to a doctor’s appointment? I had no idea. How do I reach out for adequate nursing care and support?”
“It’s so easy to get put on the back burner because you survived a shooting,” Dycus said.
She’s also doing this for people like Amy Messang and MacKenzie Messang, who know what it feels like to be in her shoes.
“In 2018, August, I was shot three times – once in the back of the neck and that paralyzed me,” said MacKenzie. “I was somewhere with a friend, who I thought was a friend.”
Like Dre, McKenzie’s smile is radiant, but things haven’t always been easy. Her mom, Amy, said in the beginning, one of the biggest challenges was trying to find where to turn to connect with transportation services for her daughter.
“MacKenzie spent about 8 months in the hospital in ICU and various rehabilitation places,” said Amy. “One thing that is a huge ordeal and I know with a lot of people, we follow a group on Facebook called spinal Cord Injury Group, transportation is a big thing. We of course did not have transportation when she first came home.”
Messang said she is glad to hear that the city is working to invest more resources into helping victims and survivors of nonfatal shootings.
In the Victim Assistance Unit, several advocates have also been touched by violence, including a spouse and parent of a homicide victim. As they tell community members they don’t need to walk a certain road alone, they’re speaking from experience.
“Pretty much everyone has been a victim in one way or the other and everybody’s been touched by violence,” said Brown
Dycus’ addition to IMPD is building on those efforts and adding another voice — a different perspective — to help people navigate resources after a life-altering event.
“It’s important that people that have that perspective they understand, they get it,” said Brown. “It’s not something new, but it’s so important to provide that perspective.”
“The approach that we’re taking here is that we’re being laser-focused and I think what comes with DeAndra’s group is a research component that will prove the validity of the program,” said Adams.
Dycus said she looks forward to helping surviving victims of shootings and helping bridge the gaps in the community between residents and police.
“After Dre was shot, I was like, I wish someone just knew what I was going through. I remember saying that in the hospital. Now, I’ll be that person to someone else,” Dycus said.
If you would like to get in touch with Dycus, you can reach her at DeAndra.Yates@Indy.Gov.