After over a year plus of covering trials and hearings, I never would have imagined a part of my family would become the target of a senseless crime. But we learned quickly how it can happen to anyone, at any time.
On Saturday March 1, my son walked to a nearby park where he had previously played football with some of the kids who hung out there. He was approached by six young men who attempted to rob him. Two of the young boys had weapons and one threatened to hit him in the head if he did not comply to handing over his money and phone. All of this happened as he was on the phone to his sister. He slid his phone into his pocket, leaving it on so his sister could hear.
He thought the kids were joking so he laughed. He quickly realized it was not a joke and went into what he called “shock mode.” He says one pulled out a switchblade, moving closer to his body, and one of the other kids had a crowbar. My son says once he saw the weapons, his focus stayed on where they were.
This made it difficult to identify them. He said, “My focus was on the weapons, ” But it was not so much his own safety he was worried about. What scared him the most was thinking about having to hurt a couple them in self-defense. He says, “I would not have been able to live with myself had that happened.”
After slowly backing up where more witnesses could see him, the kids finally fled. My son phoned the police and they arrived shortly. All of the witnesses were more than willing to identify the boys to police, showing no fear of retaliation. My son was overwhelmed…
It was alleged that a couple of the young boys were affiliated with gangs and/or older members. My son said some were dressed in red but nothing in regard to gang slurs were made during the attempted robbery and assault.
The investigation led police to four young boys, one who was barely 18. It is unclear if the two others are still being sought at this time.
Ultimately, two of the three juveniles pled to a gang enhancement, and exhibition of a deadly weapon. One boy’s charges were dropped after pleading to other cases.
On Monday, I stood face to face with one of the young boys who had had a weapon. After waiting weeks to meet these kids face to face, my reaction was not what I had anticipated. Especially after learning from defense that this young defendant may in fact be innocent.
Standing before me was a smaller Hispanic boy, longer hair, and wearing glasses. Across from me sat his mother, with the court interpreter.
Everything I had longed to say to these boys, had suddenly left me. I read the brief statements my son and his younger sister gave to me and then tried hard to express my feelings with sincerity.
Although it was not that of the usual victims’ letters of condemnation, to the offender, I felt a greater responsibility to be tough without the use of hatefulness. I wanted to give him something to think about and know that I was not beyond reproach myself.
I pled with him to think about what being affiliated with gang members would ultimately lead to – life in prison or death.
I did not know if he listened to anything I had to say. Until I mentioned the death of my brother who took his life when he was 18 and I was 13. He turned his head to look at me. It appeared I had struck a chord but I was unsure why…later learning of concern over the things he had been saying in his letters to family.
Being locked up was taking a toll on his mental state, and it was not good. His mother wept as she told the court of her concern.
I could only hope he would understand I had his best interests at heart during the expressing of mine and my family’s feelings.
I expressed a concern for his life and let him know if we could do anything to help him…we surely would do so. I told him we loved him and I was done.
Afterwards, Judge Basha gave his ruling. He said a lot of what I told this young man, that he has already said in previous times. He was reluctant to give him one last chance, but he did. Judge Basha stated he was going to give him that last chance.
He will be released in late April on supervised probation. He was instructed that he must be in counseling, drug testing and have a curfew of 6 pm. But that he did have to register as a gang member with the local police department.
I was not so inclined to believe having him register as a gang member, isn’t a set up for failure. It now gives authorities and the county to deem any other crime “gang related,” and this concerns me.
However, I am not diminishing his disregard to the law; I am just not sure this is helpful for a young kid to make that change. It will follow him the rest of his life, even if he does a formal de-brief.
But others argue that it is the only way to keep an eye on them…..maybe so….but to me it has the resemblance of giving someone a gun and then telling them they can’t use it.
As I left the courtroom, his mom came up to me and said she was very sorry….we hugged and she cried….I could no longer hold back the tears….this was the intended impact and I was humbled by her contrite heart.
Today, the second kid was sentenced. He too, will be released in a short period unless he continues to refuse drug testing. It was inferred he has been getting marijuana slipped to him inside the juvenile hall. But his family members had no pity but for themselves. Nothing but pride and blame on the victim for calling the police that day. I was stunned….
My guess is, we will be seeing that kid again…only next time he may be facing a life sentence.
I realized I had to take the good with the bad and walk away…my effort to reach out to them with the same offering got me nowhere but angry.
Last to be sentenced will be the 18-year-old involved, scheduled on April 29.