The murders of three Columbia, Mo. men last spring, two of whom were teenagers, sparked outrage from concerned residents and lead to an assessment of the effectiveness of at-risk youth crime prevention programs.
It’s been six months since the shootings, and the community has had time to heal and reflect on the meaning of this tragedy.
39 year-old Lamont Sargent was shot and killed in March, and within a month, two 17-year-old Columbia residents, DeAudre Johnson and Bryan Rankin were also murdered.
All three of the primary suspects in the murders are under the age of 20, the youngest being 15. With so many young people involved, discussions began about youth violence, gang activity, and crime in Columbia. Concerned parents and other community members called for an assessment of existing Columbia youth programs and lead some local leaders to establish new initiatives for at-risk youth.
The Armory Sports and Recreation Center on Ash St. has held after school programs for years. Camren Cross is a recreation supervisor there. He says both the 17 year-olds were actually active in the program when they were younger.
“Both of the young men had kind of distanced themselves away from that activity at some point, and just kind of stopped doing it," he says. "Some just make their decision in life, whether we are talking about an influence from elsewhere or whatever the case may be, I can’t speak for each but, some start in one group and go to the next group some start in one group and go the other way eventually.”
He says, since the shootings there has been an effort to improve and maintain safe havens for Columbia youth: “We’ve definitely had our share of meetings in Parks and Rec with some of the neighborhood and community people, and are working with the police on certain things to definitely do our part.”
Reggie Hatton grew up in the same community as the two teen victims and says people arm themselves for protection against other people with guns. “Why would you feel like you want to have the power to kill somebody in your hands if you weren’t afraid?" he says. "Like, people don’t want to be around that. Unless you got one, then that’s cool, you can do whatever you want to do with it. People don’t want to be around that…unless you got one too.”
Even with this increase in gun crimes, there are still some members of the community that believe these gun related incidents are isolated and not the result of an upward trend in gang activity.
The Columbia Community Non-Violence Initiative was created in response to the shootings. It acts as an aggregate for community organizations which promote their events at the initiative’s monthly meetings. They will continue to hold meetings in an attempt to foster peaceful development for all of Columbia’s communities.