July 2020

Stopping teen gun violence in Columbus tough when teens involved don’t care, officer and others say

Two days after two teens and two young adults died in gun violence in Columbus, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said at a news conference that the community and lawmakers need to be outraged and willing to wage war over guns illegally in the hands of youths.

But a Columbus police officer who works in South Linden, where multiple teenagers have been shot and killed in recent weeks, and others say convincing the youths to stop is a difficult task — if not impossible.

Ten people were shot in eight incidents this past weekend alone. Three died, all of them under the age of 26, Ginther said. A fourth person, a 14-year-old girl, died Saturday of injuries sustained a week earlier in a July 4 shooting.

Since June 1, there have been five homicide victims between the ages of 14 and 17.

Three teens who have been killed in South Linden in recent weeks have all been known to police as members of three rival gangs that have been stealing large numbers of vehicles.

A Columbus police officer, who is not being named because he is not authorized to speak publicly, told The Dispatch that officers working the patrol beat in the neighborhood are truly at a loss for what to do.

“We arrest them and we try talking to them,” the officer said. “We try to tell them that if they don’t stop doing what they’re doing, they could wind up dead.”

The officer said the Linden teens have mainly stolen cars for months, but in some cases they have been robbing people. The officer said he has arrested one teen four times within weeks.

The officer pointed to an incident in April when a group of teens who had been arrested in a stolen car were taken to the Village Network juvenile reception center. While they were being processed, one of the teens stole an employee’s keys, ran into the parking lot and stole the employee’s personal vehicle. He drove off with two other escaping juveniles.

“They just don’t care,” the officer said. “What else can we do?”

Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said COVID-19 has resulted in officers involved in the Safe Streets summer initiative having fewer interactions with the public. The officers usually attend community events and try to build relationships that can result in information being shared, helping to solve crimes and prevent violence.

“The sad truth of it is violence occurs in our city every year,” Quinlan said.

Stephanie Hightower, president of the Columbus Urban League, said at the city news conference that from her information, gangs were involved in half of the shootings this past weekend.

“I’m saddened, heartbroken, but also sick and tired,” she said.

“We have young people that have cabin fever. We have young people who don’t have economic opportunities. We have young people who have not been in school for the last three to four months. Our rec centers are closed,” she said. “How do we bring those young people to the table with opportunities?”

A neighbor on Gerbert Road who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation told The Dispatch that before the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Marcus Peters on Saturday, about a dozen teens and some children appeared to be living without adult supervision in the house where the shooting happened.

After Peters was killed, a crowd of more than 100 gathered near the taped-off scene and a fight broke out with more shots fired while the police investigation was under way, police said.

The neighbor said he has tried to talk to a few of the teens, but “these kids don’t have a conscience, they’re not like the rest of the kids. … They would shoot you and probably go get a sandwich and not think too much about it.”

Since Saturday’s homicide, the neighbor said police have boarded up the home, the exterior of which has since been spray-painted with “RIP” and messages of grief over Peters’ death.

The officer who works in Linden said the teens police often interact with the most are not interested in other opportunities. They are more focused on continuing to do what they already are doing — even if it means dying.

Nysier Terry, 14, was shot and killed on June 24. Two of his friends, 15-year-old Kenyion Hairston and 16-year-old Jahmir Davis, have been arrested and charged with delinquency counts of murder. They could be tried as adults.

According to the officer, Terry was standing in the sunroof of a stolen vehicle, firing weapon in the direction of a rival gang. One of his friends tried to climb into the sunroof with Terry when the gun went off, mortally wounding Terry. His body was dumped in the street and the group drove off, eventually stealing another vehicle, the officer said.

“When we arrested them, they were laughing that they had killed their friend,” the officer said. “They were basically laughing because they think they’ll be out when they’re 18. They don’t care about anything.”

Juvenile court records show Hairston is charged with a delinquency count of felonious assault from June 24 that is unrelated to Terry’s homicide. He also has an aggravated burglary charge pending from June 23 and multiple other felonies currently pending, including receiving stolen property and burglary.

If Hairston and Davis are bound over to adult court, a decision that will be made by a juvenile court judge, they could face life in prison.

The officer said “without a doubt” the groups of teens are the biggest problem Columbus police face in the Linden neighborhoods right now.

“How sad is it that 13- and 15-year-olds have completely tormented this area?” the officer said.

Dispatch Reporters Jim Woods and John Futty contributed to this report.

ethany Bruner

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