The death of 14-year-old Tyler Winstead was a tragedy, and the Building Bridges community initiative it spurred remains relevant regardless of its circumstances, a co-founder said Friday.
‚??We‚??ve said from the beginning that for whatever reason when Tyler was killed, it pulled at the heartstrings of the community,‚?Ě the Rev. Shawn Walker said.
‚??And there was such outcry from the community we felt we needed to have a measured response,‚?Ě he added.
Winstead‚??s killing on April 5 was initially reported as a suspected drive-by shooting, based on statements made to investigators and the media by Tyler‚??s friend, Elijah Yusiff.
Court documents filed against Yusiff‚??s mother, Angelina DeAbreu, this week allege Yusiff accidentally shot Winstead with a handgun stowed in DeAbreu‚??s bedroom.
The shooting inspired Walker and the Rev. Michael Brewster of Mt. Zion Baptist Church to found Building Bridges, a community initiative aimed at identifying issues contributing to youth violence and building local partnerships to curb the problem.
‚??Tyler‚??s death was ruled an accident and it was what spiked this conversation,‚?Ě Walker said. ‚??But certain subsequent incidents have indicated that these are problems that our children face everyday.‚?Ě
Walker, pastor of First Baptist Church, said those incidents include the shooting of two 27-year-old men in Hanover Village June 10; the shooting of two 17-year-old boys under the South Street Bridge June 13 and the shooting deaths of a 21-year-old and two teenagers in a Plymouth apartment July 7.
The issues Building Bridges has identified as contributing to such incidents are also disturbing.
During the July 26 meeting with area students at the Catholic Youth Center in Wilkes-Barre, Walker said the students named easy access to drugs and weapons as the number primary contributing to youth violence locally.
Between 20 and 30 percent of children at that meeting said they know someone who had brought a weapon to school, he said.
‚??Obviously that was alarming, and we need to bring experts to the table to learn how we can prevent that kind of easy access,‚?Ě Walker said. ‚??Because when weapons fall into the wrong hands that is very dangerous, and certainly I think that any youth should not have a weapon in their hands because they‚??re not aware of the dangers; they‚??re kids.‚?Ě
Bringing those experts to the table is where the Building Bridges is heading next. Walker said the group wants to partner with other groups, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Volunteers of America and the Wilkes-Barre Area School District to develop youth mentoring programs
But as the initiative moves forward, Walker said he doesn‚??t want to lose sight of the tragedy that spurred it.
‚??This is such a difficult situation,‚?Ě Walker said. ‚??Two lives; one life lost and then another kid‚??s life possible changed forever. And the Golden-Winstead family is really looking for closure, and I hope that this helps them get it.‚?Ě