Community leaders react as youth violence flares in the Pine Belt

Community leaders react to surge of teen violence
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 8:42 PM CDT
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - Teen violence in the Pine Belt is increasing by the day.

Over the past week, several shootings have been profiled.

On Wednesday, a 16-year-old teen was found shot and killed in Lamar County. This incident comes just a day after an unrelated shooting in Hattiesburg involving two more teens. And just two weeks ago, a 16-year-old and 18-year-old were involved in a shooting inside of Turtle Creek Mall.

Youth leaders like Pastor Calvin Bogan and Young Life Director Rob Johnston say it’s important to have programs in place to meet teens.

Bogan is the youth pastor at West Point Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. His church goes into the community to be hands-on with teens.

“We’re going to schools, we partner with Young Life, we partner with First Provider, we partner with Fellow Christian Athletes (FCA) and we go into schools,” Bogan said. “We’re not just at the church, not just these four walls, we have a mission and wherever our mission is.”

Rob Johnston is the organization leader of Young Life Hattiesburg

“We become the examples that that they need to see,” Johnston said. “I know some Pastor Cal is huge on, and it’s not just him, but it’s all of his leaders. They go where the kids are. That’s the difference.

“And I know if an organization like my own, Young Live, like we don’t have a place we call home per se. Our home is where the kids are.”

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said it takes a community to raise a child.

“It takes the community to come in and step in,” Barker said. “It takes churches and nonprofits and schools and local government stepping in to try and provide opportunities and provide a way forward for these youth that maybe don’t get that at home.

“It isn’t one size fits all. It isn’t, you know, there isn’t one answer for why these things happen or how to prevent them. But I do think that when the family isn’t there, then it’s up to all of us, whether it’s government or not, to kind of step in and try to help.”

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