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‘Gun violence has to stop’

Program deals with those with troubled pasts, how they can influence others

February 22, 2014
By MARK LAW - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - A group of eight young people sat in the jury box Friday in a common pleas courtroom listening to the other side of gun violence.

They heard stories of families mourning, a lifetime of physical disability from a gunshot wound, being sent to a federal prison halfway across the country and the combined effort of local, state and federal authorities coming down hard on offenders.

Safe Neighborhoods, an initiative by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, was presented to the group of people that police believe have been associated with gun violence in the city.

They sat attentively listening to the presenters making a plea to end the gun violence.

Steubenville is the fourth city in Ohio to receive a presentation by Bob Fiatal of the attorney general's office.

Fiatal said it is important for the group to share the message presented with their friends and family.

"Gun violence has to stop in Steubenville," he said.

Dr. James Cercone of Trinity Medical Center West's emergency room showed graphic images of gunshot wounds and the lifetime of physical disabilities survivors face. He also showed pictures of dead bodies, victims of gunshots.

"If you are lucky enough to make it to the emergency room, I may be the last person you ever see," he said.

He said cancer is not preventable, but gunshot wounds are.

City Police Chief William McCafferty said 11 people have lost their lives in the past five years in the city due to gun violence.

"Today is a new day in Steubenville. Today there is a new rule," he said.

McCafferty told the group if they or their friends shoot at someone, they will receive the full attention of all levels of law enforcement.

"We will make your lives miserable," he said.

McCafferty said it is fortunate an innocent person hasn't been struck by a bullet.

"Take what you hear today back to your family and friends. We want the gun violence to end today. We need your help to do this. Tell all your associates to put down the guns," he said.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said there is pressure on young people to pick up guns and join a gang.

She said criminals with guns put messages out on social media, posting threats of retaliation. She said this puts a "big giant target" on their backs, not only from rival gangs but also law enforcement which monitors social media.

Hanlin talked personally to each person in the jury box, knowing them all by their first name. She told them they could be a leader in the community, helping to steer young people away from a life of violence.

"They look up to you. You can lead them down a different path. You can make a bigger influence on them than any law enforcement.

"You can help us. Help us be a part of the solution. You can be influential, either positive or negative," Hanlin said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said he is pushing local state representatives to increase the prison time for using a gun from three years to 10 years.

Abdalla urged the group to be role models for the younger members of the community.

"They look up to you," he said.

Robert Miller, supervisory special agent with the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Youngstown, explained the harsh federal sentences for gun violence. He said the AFT, Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI are working closely with the county drug task force. Decisions are made on whether to take a case to the federal level.

He said local persons convicted of a federal charge are sent to prisons far away and don't regularly receive visits from family and friends.

"You are all potential targets for federal prosecution. We are here today to convince you that you are in control. We will have no mercy if you don't make the right decision," he said.

Kim Vich of Jefferson Behavioral Health System presented those in the group with a phone number they can call for help at any time. The help could include drug and alcohol treatment or mental health counseling. The cost of any of the services will be covered by the attorney general's office.

"Participating in the services is optional. Stopping the gun violence isn't," she said.

Michael Thomas, whose son, Demitruis, was stabbed to death, spoke of the pain a victim's family feels.

"I grieve every day. That is all I have," he said. "I would hate to see your parents go through the same pain."

He said the gun violence has to stop.

"Today is a good day to start. I'm on a mission to get you to surrender your weapons. It is time to start living and put your weapons down," he said, urging the group to find other ways to resolve their problems.

The Rev. Vaughn Foster of Christ's Community Church of Steubenville said those in the group have a purpose in life.

"Why are you here? God has a purpose for your life. God has a plan for your life," he said.

Foster told those in the group they need to break out of their past problems and realize their purpose.

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