Retired JSO officer 'takes to streets' after son's death

Father hopes to effect change after 25-year-old son shot, killed in 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A retired Jacksonville police officer is determined to use his son’s death for good and said he hopes his effort will save lives.

Kim Varner Jr., 25, was shot and killed in front of his father's Eastside home in September 2015. Police haven’t made any arrests in the case.

But Varner’s father, a longtime detective, is now hitting the streets to preach to young men about violence and escaping a life of crime. He said he wants others to help mentor them and offer them jobs so they can make an honest living.

Kim Varner Sr. said he was active in his son's life and remembers him with a smile.

“When you met him you liked him. He just had that personality,” Varner said of his son, whose nickname was Desi. “He was a great athlete. Basketball, football, I even had him up in the gym doing some boxing.”

The day Desi was killed was his family’s darkest day, and Varner hasn't spoken publicly about it until now.

“He was still that good, solid person on the inside, but he probably made some bad decisions in life, and what happened to him, I don't know if it was a result of that or just because of who he hung out with or what the deal was,” Varner said.

Police said the man they are confident killed Desi, Lenford Smith, was shot and killed days later in September 2015.

Varner said he’s putting the negativity behind him.

“My son being killed, I feel, was something to kind of help kick me off to get me back out there on the streets and talking to kids,” Varner said.

Varner was a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective for 26 years. He now works as a homicide investigator for the public defender. But when he's off duty, he works to win over the hearts of troubled youth.

“We've got to take it to the streets. We've got to stop sitting behind a desk,” he said.

Varner has teamed up with others in the community, including pastors and police officers, in trying to turn at-risk youngsters away from a life of crime.

“I've been out there talking to kids on the streets ever since the day of the funeral. I left the funeral, my wife and I left, and I went and talked to some of the kids that day in the neighborhood,” Varner said. “I've been hitting different places in the city where kids are hanging out that I know are kind of up to no good.”

Not everyone has responded well. Varner said it’s an uphill battle, but he believes that he can change and save lives.

“Second chances are going to be granted to these kids,” he said. “You can't just forget about them, lock them up and forget about them.”

It’s his new life mission in honor of his late son.

Varner said he plans to start a foundation in his son’s memory. In the meantime, he said anyone who wants to talk about getting out of a life of crime can contact him by calling the Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office.

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