TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Firearms were the leading cause of death among kids and teens in the U.S. in 2020, according to a New England Journal of Medicine report published last month.

The research shows there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in 2020. That is up 29% from the previous year. Most of the kids killed by firearms were 14 and older.

It’s a tragedy among our nation’s youth. For the first time in decades, gun injuries have surpassed motor vehicle crashes among kids and teens.

“How did we get here? I think we need to go back to the 3 E’s: the education, the encouragement, the empowerment,” said Stacey Spencer, Teen Tyme founder. “We need to put an encompassing web of love around these young people to inspire them to be the dreamer, believer and achiever.”

Teen Tyme is a non-profit organization helping with youth development through resources and services. Spencer said right now we need to surround young people with love and inspiration.

“The life and times of what we used to know have definitely changed,” she said. “I do believe that there’s something that’s been perpetuated in the music, the movies, the lyrics, the gaming, the aggression. It starts in the home; giving them that good basic training in the home.”

For parents who have lost a child to gun violence, Spencer said it’s a new opening to a chapter of understanding and acceptance.

“This is a pain no parent should feel,” said Ashley Alexander, Nilexia Alexander’s mother. “You should not have to bury your child.”

Police said the body of 14-year-old Nilexia Alexander was found on Floribraska Avenue last Friday after someone reported a body in the Jackson Heights Neighborhood. She was listed as a runaway two weeks ago.

Nilexia’s mother pleaded with her daughter’s killer to come forward.

“She was my baby, and I want whoever did this brought to justice,” said Alexander.

Spencer said this is a call to action.

“We need to bring it together as a collective community because this is a community-related issue and problem,” said Spencer. “I think it’s time now to go back to the basics: high standards, meaningful morals, valuable virtues and priceless values.”

Those words were echoed at a vigil for Nilexia on Wednesday.

“We have to be a community that stands together,” said Pastor Elvis Piggott of Triumph Church. “We have to most definitely get involved with Tampa Police Department, and we have to help them get this killer and bring that person to justice.”

Spencer said we can’t continue to have meetings about the violence getting bad, we need change now to save lives.

If you have information on Nilexia’s death, call the TPD non-emergency line at 813-231-6130.

Her funeral is Saturday at 11 a.m. at Wilson’s Funeral home in Tampa.