JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The death of a 7-year-old boy killed in the crossfire of a gun battle Sunday night evoked outrage from the child's community, the police investigating the crime and the city's mayor, who said the shooter's carelessness turned Jacksonville's streets into a “war zone.”
Tashawn Gallon, a first-grader at S.P. Livingston Elementary, joined a tragic list of Jacksonville children whose lives were taken by gun violence happening around them.
Last year, 3-year-old Connor Mickens was killed in the crossfire inside his own home after his mother's ex-boyfriend barged in and opened fire, sparking a gun battle, police said.
In January 2016, 22-month-old Aiden McClendon was killed by bullets intended for his 19-year-old cousin, who was involved in a gang war, according to police.
Later that same year, 11-month-old Tedashii Williams was one of three killed when a gunman opened fire at the Cleveland Arms Apartments. Two others were wounded but survived.
Each senseless murder has sparked an outcry from the community and its leaders. Mayor Lenny Curry said after Tedashii was shot that he was “mad as hell.”
Curry also expressed dismay Monday in a series of Twitter posts, saying Tashawn's life was stolen less than 2 miles from City Hall.
“We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace,” Curry wrote.
He said that within a couple miles of where Tashawn was shot, there are firehouses, police substations, churches, government offices and a local college.
“All institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry wrote.
He said that in the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, Tashawn's life was taken “by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn't hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone.”
Curry called on the community to “break through to these young people.”
“We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace,” he wrote.
Searching for solutions
Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who represents the neighborhood where Tashawn was shot, invited News4Jax to walk with her as she talked Monday with neighbors who are dealing with the 7-year-old's death.
We saw some children playing and walking around, but others were crying, trying to come to terms with the tragic loss.
A boy on a bicycle, who identified himself as Tashawn's cousin, told Brown that he wants whoever shot the boy put to death, but finding out who that was will be difficult, because no one will be willing to talk.
“One of the main concerns is that if they were to contact the Sheriff's Office about crime or somebody doing something, it would lead to retaliation (on them or their families),” Brown said.
Sheriff Mike Williams said that witnesses aren’t cooperating, and his department hopes an increased reward of $10,000 for information leading to an arrest will bring forth more information.
“We are going to solve this case,” Williams said Monday. “We are going to bring this person to justice. I promise you that.”
Curry echoed that sentiment and stressed that funding for groups and boards like Kids Hope Alliance needs to stay intact. He said such programs help neighborhoods like the one where Tashawn was gunned down.
But ministers and others in the area said community outreach only goes so far. What they want to see is more police officers on the street.
Brown said if more officers were in the community communicating with those who live there, residents might be more willing to speak up.
MAD DADS urges residents to come forward
Despite fears of retaliation, Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder (MAD DADS) asked the community to think about what really matters -- that gun violence took the life of a 7-year-old boy.
MAD DADS said Jacksonville residents need to stand up and speak up to stop the violence, not remain silent.
On Monday, A.J. Jordan, who represents MAD DADS, stopped by the Durkeeville home where Tashawn was killed Sunday night while playing in the front yard.
Jordan said checking on families who have lost their children to gun violence has been happening too often.
“I think it’s a shame that our city is so violent now that little kids can’t play in their front yard without somebody coming by and spraying bullets at them," he said.
As Jordan visited the Durkeeville home, more police could be seen patrolling the neighborhood.
"It breaks my heart. I’ve been crying for this family all day," Jordan said. "I mean, when you wake up and the first thing you see is a 7-year-old child is dead, what can you say? It’s no words. It’s just sadness.”
To keep the community safe, MAD DADS said, the best thing is for people to come forward with information about the shootings.
“What we have to do, as a community, is stand up against these criminals and take back our city. Somebody has to be strong enough to make a stand," Jordan said. "Call Crime Stoppers. Call JSO (Jacksonville Sheriff's Office). Call MAD DADS. And let's start getting those criminals off the streets and in jail where they belong.”