Valdosta residents work to reduce guns on the streets and engage youth

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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) – Community members and the Valdosta Police Department say they are devastated by the accidental shooting death of a 12-year-old child.

This tragedy is what some say illuminates a growing problem in Valdosta.

“I think that’s a huge problem. That means we have 35 guns on the street,” Valdosta Police Department Chief Leslie Manahan said.

She added that the amount of weapons stolen from unlocked vehicles has become a problem for the department. In the month of February, VPD was called in for 220 car thefts with 35 stolen weapons.

A total of 70% of these cars, according to VPD, were unlocked.

“We recently spoke to some of these minors who have been involved in thefts from vehicles and they said they opt for unlocked cars and their target is guns and money,” said Manahan.

Chief Manahan says the age at which they see people committing these crimes is 12 to 17 years old.

The department urges all city residents to lock their vehicles to prevent children from picking up weapons or firearms that could lead to accidents.

VPD says a 12- and 16-year-old broke into unsecured cars and firearms around Tuesday.

When the pair arrived at the 16-year-old’s home, police said 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 help and save the life of a 12-year-old child. It’s very tragic and it takes a toll on our mental health at the department,” Manahan said.

Lewis Cureton, however, says that while tragic, the affair does not mean the two were bad kids.

“It’s not that the kids are mischievous themselves, but there’s apparently no other option they’ve seen. It’s very saddening and disheartening to hear,” Cureton said.

Cureton refers to the survival mindset of many children in marginalized communities.

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

“We are the ones who can solve this problem. I just hope everyone can see the problems that are happening and want to build a better Valdosta,” Cureton said.

It’s unclear whether the 16-year-old will be charged as a juvenile or an adult, but he could face 10 to 30 years for second degree murder and 5 to 20 years for child cruelty if tried as an adult .

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