WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – An uptick in youth violence is raising concern among Wichita police and community leaders. It comes after a teen was shot in what police call a shootout between two cars that started near 13th and Oliver on Thursday.
Police say the 16-year-old victim, Azuri Jones, was in a car with two other teens. They drove her to the hospital, where she died. Police arrested three suspects not far from the Wichita State area. They also say the two groups knew each other.
Jones’ family is now getting ready to bury more than just her.
“They lost a son and a daughter in a matter of days. If that doesn’t rock out community, what will?” wondered Pastor Odell Harris Jr., Heavenly Gates Mortuary.
Pastor Harris is preparing the funeral service for Jones and her brother, Christian Willis, who died from gun violence earlier this month in Lawrence.
“How many more kids? Sixteen-year-old girl, 21-year-old son. How many more? When is enough? Is it gonna have to be your family? Is it gonna have to be my daughter?” Harris passionately said.
Wichita police are seeing a spike in homicides involving teens. So far in 2021, there have been nine. It is more than double what was seen throughout this time in 2020.
“My biggest concern is, these youth getting their hands on guns and not recognizing the permanent damage it does can do for everybody’s lives involved,” said Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay.
Over the past five years, Wichita has seen an average of three homicides a year that involve teens as the victim, suspect or arrestee. So far, 2021 has seen a 200% increase over that average.
“I can tell you there’s more guns available for youth now than I’ve ever seen in my career,” Chief Ramsay said.
WPD created a Juvenile Intervention Unit to connect kids on the fence of a violent path to resources.
Chief Ramsay said while that’s the goal, there needs to be more, “There needs to be more recognition of the lack of resources that we face, and the lack of help for these youth that are, you know, struggling through life.”
Chief Ramsay believes this is a community issue.
One Wichita advocate is going door to door to encourage local teens to channel their energy to something that is positive. He is trying to be a support system that he said he didn’t have growing up. He said too many teens are dying, and more needs to be done.
“It’s an issue that is not dealt with,” said Mason.
Tracey C. Mason Sr. is the founder and owner of C.H.D. Boxing in Wichita. He believes there should be more outrage about the violence between teens.
“You can stuff it down all you want, but sooner or later, that stuff that you shoved down has to come out, and right now, there is a lot of stuffing going down, so when the explosion happens, what are we gonna do then?” said Mason.
Mason, who spent time in prison, said he doesn’t want the same for youth today. Instead, he believes by showing teens that someone cares about their lives, he can change the course of their future.
“They don’t know they can be lawyers, judges, senators. They just think they can get money by any means,” said Mason.
Mason said more funding for mental health resources, direct outreach to teens, and cutting out violent music and entertainment can make a difference in young adults’ lives.