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Richmond leaders plead for parents' help in stopping violence: 'Our kids are hurting'

Posted at 5:04 AM, May 02, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — Visibly shaken Richmond School Superintendent Jason Kamras addressed last Thursday’s shooting outside of George Wythe High School at a community peace vigil Monday afternoon.

The shooting left two students injured, one critically. 18-year-old David Gutierrez — also a student — was arrested and charged Saturday in connection to the case.

“I’m sick and tired of coming here. I don’t want to come here,” Kamras said. “I have a mental map of all the places in Richmond I’ve come to a vigil. I’m running out of places on the map so let’s make this one different. Let’s change something because our kids’ lives are literally dependent on it.”

The vigil for peace, attended by Richmond police officers, firefighters, lawmakers and community leaders, comes on the heels of Richmond’s 26th murder so far this year. Several of the cases involve citizens under the age of 18.

Richmond’s acting police chief, Rick Edwards, said many kids are bringing guns to what were once fist fights.

“Something that most people probably don’t realize is that 40% of those shootings stem from arguments,” Edwards explained.

With guns easily accessible and a mounting mental health crisis among children and teens, school leaders are pleading with parents for help.

George Wythe principal, Kevin Olds, said schools see a difference when parents take an active role in their child’s education and upbringing.

“We are asking parents let’s get involved with continuing to raise our children. This is where we are missing the mark,” Olds said. “We have six counselors, we have two social workers, we have a school psychologist. These are resources that we need to impact our kids in a positive way, but just because we have them doesn’t necessarily mean that kids are taking advantage of these resources.”

Richmond School Board member, Jonathan Young, proposed changes to policies and protocols at RPS — including more seats at alternative schools, increased mental health support and threat assessment teams.

However, some city leaders are calling for more community action, including volunteer opportunities in schools and youth groups.

“Don’t just shout out, show up,” exclaimed Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin, who also attended the peace vigil.

McEachin held up a newspaper article referencing social justice protests that took place in the summer of 2020, just before the Confederate monuments were removed.

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Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin

“These protests, these peaceful protests were all deserved, so where are these people now?” McEachin asked. “Where is all this anger and concern now?”

Leaders said it will take a village to change the devastating trajectory of violence. They say without parental involvement and community support, the violence will only grow worse.

“Here at RPS alone, we’re on track to have 600 suicide assessments from our kids this year alone,” Kamras said. “Our kids are hurting. Our families are hurting and when you combine that with a sea of guns, you get what we see time and time again.”

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