Last weekend’s news of a mass shooting on Austin’s famed Sixth Street was disturbing enough.

Then came the news that a Killeen teenager had been arrested in connection with the incident that left one man dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Even more troubling were the details that continued to come out as the week unfolded, with Austin police reporting that the incident was essentially a shootout between two groups of Killeen-area teenagers.

A juvenile who was shot in the leg during the melee told Austin police he had gone to middle school in Killeen with the shooter, who he referred to as JT.

Shockingly, that same gunman had shot him in the leg just a few days earlier in Killeen, he told police.

On Monday, a 17-year-old summer school student, Jeremiah Tabb, was arrested at Harker Heights High School and charged with aggravated assault-serious bodily injury, a second-degree felony. A 15-year-old juvenile was arrested on a charge of deadly conduct, though Austin police would not confirm the juvenile’s city of residence.

What in the world is going on here?

We’ve got armed groups of teenagers not only shooting each other on their home turf, but some are apparently exporting their deadly violence to our state capital, 70 miles down the road.

Add to that the April shooting death of a Harker Heights teenager outside Harker Heights High School in an alleged gun sale gone bad, and it’s apparent that we have a problem with youth crime in our community — particularly gun crime.

The connection between the Killeen shooting of the juvenile, who was treated at Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights on June 8, and the Austin shooting is apparently under investigation. At least that’s what Killeen police are saying.

But Austin police went so far as to interview the juvenile Sixth Street shooting victim in the hospital and obtain a yearbook to show the young victim in an attempt to identify a suspect. On Monday, Austin police, in cooperation with the Killeen Independent School District police, arrested the suspect, who was in summer school at Harker Heights High.

From the start, Austin PD has been forthcoming with information, providing arrest affidavits, identification of suspects and offering a detailed narrative of the shooting incident.

Meanwhile, Killeen police have declined to answer questions regarding the incident, as has the Killeen school district.

The problem with this lack of information is that between the time of the June 8 shooting and the weekend shooting in Austin, it’s possible that an armed gunman was loose in the Killeen area, and residents weren’t notified. Regardless of whether the shootings reportedly were the result of a feud between two groups of teens, the fact remains that innocent bystanders could be potential targets, as was the case in the Sixth Street shooting.

But the dissemination of information is not the biggest concern at this point.

More pressing is the need to address the challenge of youth crime — and more importantly, its root causes.

The day after Monday’s arrest at the high school, city and school district officials met at Killeen City Hall to discuss ways to tackle the area’s crime problem.

One possible solution is a proposed regional crime reduction committee, which would include representatives from the school district, Bell County, some local cities and Fort Hood. The committee’s role would be to study crime, recommend solutions to decrease crime and coordinate and execute efforts, according to the committee’s proposed agreement.

KISD Board Vice President Susan Jones said one approach would be to start at home with students’ parents, noting that “no parent raises their child and wants them to end up in prison.”

Jones also suggested year-round school as a way to keep young students focused and off the streets. While that may have some impact, it’s worth noting that the Austin shooting took place over a weekend and the shooting suspect was attending summer school when he was arrested.

KISD Superintendent John Craft pointed out that the school district has a variety of support programs available to assist parents of at-risk students. The problem, he said, is a lack of engagement on the part of parents who need to be engaged.

That may be true, but a major part of getting parents engaged is drawing their attention in the first place.

KISD may have some excellent parenting support programs, but as long as they are buried somewhere on the district’s website or publicized only on posters in school counselors’ offices, they will have little chance of reaching their target audience.

Obviously, the district must do a better job in getting the word out.

Prior to the $426 million construction bond election in 2018, Craft made dozens of PowerPoint presentations across the district — on school campuses, at civic club meetings and before governmental boards — in an effort to provide information and drum up support for the bond, which voters ultimately approved.

That same kind of aggressive outreach — to include advertising campaigns and social media blitzes — is needed to make parents and their students aware of the resources the district can provide to those who wish to take advantage of them.

Of course, more effective parenting is just one factor in reducing youth crime in the area.

We need more organized youth activities, better recreational options and expanded opportunities for public service.

We need more family-focused initiatives like the ones the city of Harker Heights offers — the Healthy Homes Program, Public Safety Commission and the Heights Has Heart group.

As a community, we must do a better job recognizing our at-risk youth and give them every chance to make better life choices. But that may be easier said than done.

Working with our local police departments, we can make a difference through crime watches, citizen police initiatives and neighborhood involvement. In short, we need community policing, as Killeen Chief Charles Kimble has stressed.

But it all starts with addressing the issue of youth crime — and that is a complicated problem that we’re not likely to solve overnight.

Though Killeen’s overall crime statistics are down, as police pointed out during a “Community Conversation” on Thursday, the perception of crime is what matters.

The Austin shooting incident is more than just tragic in the short term. It has drawn national attention and given Killeen the kind of negative attention that can cause long-term harm to the city’s image. Coupled with the Vanessa Guillen murder last year and the scrutiny given our Army post by the Pentagon in the past year, last weekend’s violence is undoubtedly damaging.

Unless the city can refurbish its tarnished image, businesses likely will be hesitant to locate here, retirees may be reluctant to make their homes here, and shoppers may choose to spend their money elsewhere.

That is a shame, because Killeen has so much to offer, with a strong economy, good medical facilities, a variety of retail options and great resources for military veterans.

At this point, we have no excuses to offer, no more rationalizations. We simply have to address our crime problem.

We must make it a priority, and we must do it together.

The future of our youth — and our entire community — depend on it.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(5) comments

sasan1

To Don76550, possibly read more and understand it was the authorities that dropped the charges, but still note that the boys were underage carrying weapons. Which, last I checked authorities isn’t a political issue. God bless.

https://www.kxan.com/news/local/austin/6th-street-shooting-district-attorney-apd-interim-chief-give-updates-at-11-a-m/

don76550

To sasan, while the 17 year old did not fire the fatal shot, nevertheless he was reported to be carrying a handgun which is illegal for him. Even under the new constitutional carry statue, it would still be illegal for him. If he fired a gun without hitting anyone, that also is a crime. This was a result of gang violence and the liberal democrat prosecutor was derelict in his duty by not pursuing the other charges.

sasan1

Good thing this article is now very outdated as the teen's in question has had all charges dropped.

don76550

It is noteworthy that the 17 year old involved in the Austin shooting was arrested for shooting another student days prior in Killeen. Why was he released? Judges in Texas are elected, perhaps we should pay more attention to who we vote for.

Noneofyourbiz

I agree.

Study after study shows and talks about why kids join groups and engage in violent group behavior. The problem starts at home, and in school. The child that is most likely to engage in these types of crews, tend to seek what they think is family. This behavior is also seen adults when they also join these types of groups. It also is a attention seeking behavior, the need to feel powerful, in control and so on. Study after study has outlined these behaviors. The same studies have proven that it has nothing to do with cuties offering youth groups or youth programs and centers. Many of those things actually end up producing more bad group behaviors and become recruiting centers. Schools have become recruiting centers as well.

This is not just a property level problem, as middle class and upper class are engaged in this as well. It is a behavioral problem that can only be solved by actually telling the truth to the citizens, no matter how painful the truth is. The longer it is hidden the worst the problem becomes and put everyone in danger.

We need judges that are going to hold parents and youth responsible.

When teenage runaways spend more time in Juvenile for running from bad abusive parents, than youth that engage in violent crimes. When parents are held responsible and face jail and lost of thier children because of not having internet, or child isn't wearing 100 dollar shoes, or a child skips school. Than why are these judges not holding the violent offenders parents accountable?

I am sick of excuse, and criminals being made heros and called victims, when we have children and families trying so hard just to survive by doing right.

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