I have looked into the casket of a 19-year-old woman who was shot to death in front of her apartment in gang crossfire. Her unborn child, who died with her, was swaddled beneath her arm inside the coffin. I have looked into the pained eyes of a young father whose 3-year-old son was killed in his stroller on a public street in broad daylight. I have gone to murder scenes a few blocks from my own home in East Oakland where young men have been shot dead in the street.

Since I began writing a regular column for this newspaper five years ago, I have had a front-row seat to Oakland's gun-killing epidemic. It has been frustrating and painful to write variations of the same column week in and week out in which yet someone else's son, daughter, mother, wife, husband, niece or grandmother has been fatally shot. I am sick of the continuing treadmill of death with no end in sight and the emails from grieving people whose loved ones left home one day never to return.

It's time for me to go beyond reporting on Oakland's gun violence epidemic as a never-ending crime blotter and become part of the search for solutions.

I will be taking a 10-month sabbatical from this newspaper to research urban gun violence as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University (go to the website here: http://hvrd.me/12xKeNU). I will be seeking out evidence-based strategies and practices that have led to reductions in street shootings in other cities.

This will be my last column -- at least for now. My plan is to return to the Oakland Tribune at the end of June 2014.

I have often wondered about the disparity in street shootings among cities. Why is it that places like New York City and Washington, D.C., have had decreases, while in others, like Oakland and Chicago, gun killings continue to soar in mostly poor African-American neighborhoods? What factors account for those disparities? How much of the decrease can be linked to specific violence prevention policies and programs as opposed to social forces like gentrification?

How can law enforcement, government and public health officials, the private sector, schools, the spiritual community, nonprofits, youth and other segments of the community work in concert to stop the bloodshed?

If urban gun violence is a public health epidemic -- which I believe it is -- what specific areas must be addressed to both prevent it from occurring in the first place and to stop it from spreading?

These are some of the questions I have asked myself. But under the pressure of daily deadlines and trying to keep up with the mounting body count, I had no time to do more than pose the questions. Now I'll have an opportunity to look for answers and gain a broader perspective on urban gun violence as a national public health emergency.

A reader once emailed to ask why I keep writing about gun killings in Oakland. "Don't you know by now there's nothing you can do about it?" he said.

I admit I have often felt overwhelmed. But never to the point of accepting that this is part of Oakland's DNA. That from now until the end of time, an average of 100 people will be murdered every year -- most of them in street shootings.

There are many good individuals and organizations in Oakland trying to make things better. What is lacking is leadership and vision.

One of a journalist's most important roles is to educate the public and policymakers about critical issues. In order to do that, we must first educate ourselves.

Over the years, some of you have taken issue with the fact that I have written so much about Oakland's homicide epidemic. You've said I did not write enough about the positive attributes that make Oakland such a vibrant place to live. I have struggled with finding the right balance. When there is a dead elephant in your living room, it's hard to step back and admire the lovely furnishings.

Thank you for reading and for your emails.

Farewell for now. Be safe.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com, or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.