More than 200 Prince George’s County residents and officials gathered at the Suitland Recreation Center to discuss how to halt a spate of killings that has left six high school youths dead since the beginning of the school year.

The Feb. 25 meeting was convened in the wake of back-to-back killings of two Suitland High School students—Charles Walker Jr., 15, and Aaron Kidd, 18. The two-hour event was broadcast live on 93.9 WKYS and featured Radio One air personalities Angie Ange and Ralph Anwar “Big G” Glover as moderators. A panel of county leaders, including State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, Police Chief Mark Magaw and County Councilmember Karen Toles (District 7), addressed solutions to youth violence.

Police attributed the spate of violence among young people to the availability of guns.

“A lot of the guns we investigate are legally purchased and owned,” said Maj. George Nader, commander of Police District III. “If you choose to be a gun owner, make sure that the gun is locked up and no child has access. Many times when we make these arrests, parents don’t even notice that their gun is missing.”

Four other students have died this school year: Amber Stanley, 17; Marckel Ross, 18; Eliezer Reyes, 14; and Marcus Jones, 16.

Magaw on Feb. 25 announced an arrest in Ross’ killing. The first student slain this school year, Ross, was fatally shot just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 11 in the 6100 block of Old Central Avenue as he walked to Central High School. Police arrested Travon Bennett, 20, of Bryans Road, Md. Authorities believe the motive was robbery.

However, discussions at the meeting focused on Walker’s death. According to police, Walker, a freshman at Suitland High School, was walking on 28th Avenue in Hillcrest Heights carrying a new pair of Timberland boots in a shopping bag when a van carrying five men approached. Someone asked him for the shoes, but he refused and began to run, authorities said. At some point, shots were fired from the van and Walker fell, mortally wounded. He was taken to a local hospital where he later died. All five men in the van were charged with first-degree murder: Derryck Antonio Green, 20, of Alexandria; Jermani Maurice Whitner, 18, of Temple Hills; Glenn Cornell Leach, 23, of Southeast Washington; Tayvon Delonte Williams, 21, of Oxon Hill; and Kevin J. Smith, 21, of Temple Hills.

“A young man who was shot in his back over a pair of shoes says that we are transferring the wrong values to our children,” Alsobrooks said. “And that has to be addressed.”

Walker’s father, Charles Walker, attended the meeting, but did not speak. The victim’s cousin, Thaddeus Walker, 23, of Waldorf, told the audience that he hopes others will learn from the death.

“For a pair of shoes, for a jacket, give it up,” he said. “It’s not worth your life.”

Glover, whose son was injured in a robbery attempt in 2011, agreed.

“I tell my kids and all the kids in my neighborhood, ‘You can always get a new pair of shoes, but we can’t get a new life,’” Glover said. “If they want it, give it to them. Please give those shoes up.”

Some said improved parenting, more youth jobs, increased support from the faith community, better government support for community groups and more male role models would help curb violence.

“Children need to see stronger male figures in their life,” said Walter Kirkland, president of 100 Black Men of Prince George’s County. “Brothers, I need you to…stand up and be accountable.”

Police investigations into the killings continue.

Kidd was fatally shot Feb. 19 outside an apartment complex on Donnell Drive in Forestville. Another youth, Andre Shuford, 18, died in the same shooting.

In an interview after the meeting, Thaddeus Walker recalled the last time he saw his cousin.

“I talked to him maybe two weeks before he was killed,” Walker said. “We went to the mall together. I bought him some shoes. We talked about how school was going, talked about his girlfriend. He was doing very well.”

Erica Proctor, 39, of Suitland, whose son, Delonte McCray, 18, a student at the Forestville Military Academy, was killed on Keating Street in Temple Hills on March 3, 2012, said the violent deaths of loved ones are haunting to family members.

“I have to deal with this on an everyday basis,” she said. “I feel for any family member just to deal with the fact that son is gone.”

Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO