TAMPA — Shootings at Ybor City clubs and recent fatal gunfights in East Tampa alarmed police. Chief Jane Castor called for a community meeting.
So many young men have been losing their lives in the senseless shootings, she said. In the past two months, four have died.
And compounding it all, she said: In Florida, guns are readily available. So the group decided on its first move — a gun buy-back program.
The Tampa Bay Lightning donated $12,500, which will be handed out Saturday. Organizers will pay $50 for each gun brought to Seminole Heights Baptist Church.
There's a long-standing debate about whether gun buy-backs work. Castor knows she'll have critics but has hope.
"The criminals may not be willing to bring their guns," Castor said at a Tuesday news conference. "But their family members may."
As Mary Ann Reynolds approached the lectern, the plea became personal. She was with church friends on Nov. 6 when her youngest grandson called to say his brother, Jamarie Hodges, 16, had been killed. The teen had been trying to break up a fight outside their East Tampa home.
"My baby, he got shot twice in the chest," Reynolds said.
This Thanksgiving was difficult. Jamarie was always her help in the kitchen. She hasn't bothered decorating for Christmas.
"I'm pleading to everyone out there, if you have guns in your neighborhood, your homes, or you know of someone who has a gun — turn it in," she said.
Nearby stood Cheryl Singleton, whose 17-year-old son was shot to death Oct. 29 outside a Tampa restaurant.
Police said it was a fight between rival gangs. John Singleton, who had no criminal record, was shot as he tried to run away.
When a friend called with the news, Cheryl Singleton didn't believe her.
"I started pulling my hair," she said. "I was running, I was hollering and I was screaming."
After the gun buy-back, Tampa police plan to meet with community leaders again.
They may try other programs, like a midnight basketball league to give local youths a positive outlet, Castor said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.