In Prince George’s County, the killings of a half-dozen kids ages 14 to 18, in unrelated tragedies in scattered places over a six-month span, have jolted Washington’s most crime-troubled suburb from a kind of slumber.
Gone — an aspiring doctor, a future barber, a kid who sketched a rose. Some liked dancing, some enjoyed modeling, one cheered for the Philadelphia Eagles. They did well in school, or poorly, or just okay. They were still growing up, no two the same.
Bullets killed them — from gangbangers, from stickup men, from a mysterious attacker who shot a girl in her bedroom, police say. Six violent deaths, together a crisis.
Just a few months ago, Prince George’s officials staged a celebratory announcement of a big drop in violence in 2012 — “a renaissance,” the police chief called it. But that was before the number of public school students slain in the county this academic year hit a tipping point in the civic conscience with two more fatal shootings this past week.
Now murder again weighs heavy on the public’s mind.
“I’m frustrated, because we’ve made progress in this county, and to let six youths get killed on our watch is unacceptable,” said Barry Stanton, the Prince George’s public safety director. “Everybody’s galvanized on this issue, and I can tell you, we’re going to come together and fight this issue and come up with some solutions.”
Police, social service providers and nonprofit groups plan to meet this week to discuss forming a task force against youth violence, Stanton said. He said the task force would function within the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, an effort to solve social problems in six troubled areas of Prince George’s.
“It’s tragic so many people have lost their babies,” said Irma Gaither, mother of Amber Stanley. “I want parents to know that I feel their pain, and I’m sorry this happened. Unfortunately, this is a broke system we live in, and only God above can help us.”
Although the killings have seized the community’s attention at least partly because the victims were students, none of the homicides involved a school — except that one person happened to be walking to a Capitol Heights campus when he was shot in an attempted street holdup, police said.
Another was similarly killed in Hillcrest Heights, gunned down on a street as he ran from would-be robbers. One victim was slain by an intruder in her Kettering home, another when shots were fired at a gathering of young people in a Forestville parking lot. Like Capitol Heights and Hillcrest Heights, Forestville is inside the Capital Beltway, where the county’s crime rate is highest and street violence more common.
Two victims died in what police said were gang-related shootings, on a Lewisdale street and outside a house party in Fort Washington.
“The thing that keeps coming back is people just don’t know how to deal with conflict,” said Stanton, noting that investigators have found no connection among the fatal encounters.