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Valdosta residents working to reduce guns on the streets, engage youth

A 12 year old died this week due to shooting
Posted at 8:25 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 20:25:04-04

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — Community members and the Valdosta Police Department say that they're devastated about the accidental shooting death of a 12 year old.

This tragedy is what some say is shedding a light on a problem that is growing in Valdosta.

"I think it's a huge problem. It means we have 35 guns on the street," Valdosta Police Department chief Leslie Manahan said.

She added the amount of guns being stolen out of unlocked vehicles has become an issue for the department. In the month of February, VPD was called to 220 car thefts with 35 guns stolen.

A total of 70 percent of those cars VPD say were unlocked.

"We've recently talked to some of those juveniles that were involved in theft from vehicles and they said they're going for cars that are unlocked and their target is firearms and cash," Manahan said.

Chief Manahan says the age they're seeing people doing these crimes are 12 to 17 year olds.

The department is urging everyone in the city to lock their vehicles to prevent kids from getting a hold of weapons or firearms that can lead to accidents.

VPD says a 12 and 16 year old were breaking into cars and unsecured firearms around Tuesday.

When the two got to the 16-year-olds home, police say they were "playing" with one of the stolen guns, when the 16-year-old accidentally shot and killed the 12 year old.

Chief Manahan says this case is heartbreaking.

"No one ever wants to respond and try to render aid and save the life of a 12-year-old. It's very tragic and it does weigh on our mental health at the department," Manahan said.

Lewis Cureton, however, says although tragic, the case doesn't mean the two were bad kids.

"It is not that the children are mischievous themselves, but there is apparently no other option that they've seen. It is very saddening and disheartening to hear," Cureton said.

Cureton is referencing the survival mindset many kids in marginalized communities take.

For that reason, Cureton started his organization Young Elite African American Professionals to help bring more positive role models and mentors to youth in Valdosta; adding it takes a community to raise children.

"We're the ones that can solve this problem. I just hope everyone can see the issues that are occurring and want to build a better Valdosta," Cureton said.

It is not known if that 16-year-old will be charged as a juvenile or adult, but he could face 10 to 30 years for Second Degree Murder and five to 20 years for Cruelty to Children if he is tried as an adult.