Group voices concern over gang violence

Recent Jacksonville shootings raise issues of possible gang involvement

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Families and neighbors in Northwest Jacksonville have a problem on their hands and are raising major concerns about possible gang violence in the death of 14-year-old James Thomas, who was shot in the parking lot at the Johnnie Walker Community Center last Friday.

Earlier this year, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office told News4Jax there were 43 documented gangs in Jacksonville with about 800 members.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office told News4Jax on Monday night that officials couldn't comment on the most recent shootings that killed a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old last week, because they involve open investigations; however, the report from Friday night's shooting that left Thomas dead clearly states "Gangland" under the Crime Analysis section.

"When you're hopeless, you get desperate, and when you're desperate, nothing good comes from that," said Jason Roger, program director of Justified Services.

Channel 4's Adrienne Moore asked Justified Services for perspective on Jacksonville's gang's Monday night. Justified Services is a nonprofit group focused on steering local youth away from a life of crime and down a path of success.

"What is it that is so seductive about becoming a part of a gang," asked Moore.

"I think it's family," Roger said. "Everybody wants a family. Everybody wants a place where they can be accepted, and sometimes, whether it's positive or negative, it doesn't negate the fact that you're longing to be accepted."

"We focus on kids, at-risk youth, ages 14-23," said Justified Services' Jeremy Spellman. "That's when we feel like they kind of go through that time when their support dries up, or they're involved in negative behaviors."

Pictures of young people clutching guns, flashing intimidating signs and using vulgar, threatening language in their posts are flooding social media.

"Does that surprise you?" asked Moore.

"Unfortunately, no," responded Spellman. "What it does tell me (is) that we need more people on the front lines for our young. And that's what we're willing to do."

Concerned parents who contacted News4Jax claim the "Colby Gang" could be connected to the murder of 14-year-old James Thomas. A closer look at the gang's posted Facebook page revealed posts bragging about buying guns and threats.

"I interpret it as kids, just, they're hurting," said Roger. "I interpret it as somebody who is longing for some kind of relationship. Some kind of attention."

Again, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is not commenting on whether these crimes are considered gang related, but officials did say that of the 67 homicides this year, eight victims were between the ages of 14-19 years old.

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