Recent juvenile gang violence, while concerning, is an abnormality in Williamsport, according to city Mayor Derek Slaughter, adding that it is spearheaded by a small number of youths in the community.
“I think that was an anomaly,” Slaughter said. “It ebbs and flows. And then we had those (shootings) that week or so in a time frame where we had an uptick in, unfortunately, juvenile violent crime.”
A rash of recent shootings that sent three teens to the hospital, prompted a heavy law enforcement response in the city and a news release from city safety leaders asking the public for help identifying the shooters.
“It’s a two-way street,” Slaughter told On the PULSE. “Our public safety folks can’t do it all by themselves. We have to work together between public safety folks and also the community, which is what we’re seeing now after these unfortunate events.”
Slaughter commended the positive response from the community after residents heard of the rise in violence among youth.
“We said, ‘If you see something, say something…’ It’s on all of us to make sure that our community is safe,” Slaughter said.
Recent juvenile violence
The press release was crafted by Lycoming County District Attorney Ryan Gardner, Williamsport Bureau of Police Chief Justin Snyder and Slaughter.
It was in response to at least two shootings that began on the 2100 block of Boyd Street in Newberry on Aug. 21. Little information is available, as the incident is still under investigation. Two 15-year-olds who were sitting on the porch of the residence were taken to the hospital, according to the police.
Williamsport is no stranger to gang-related violence. When Gardner was first elected as the county’s district attorney in 2020, he pledged to crack down on two well-known gangs, the “400” and “600.”
“Unfortunately, since that time and despite the ongoing efforts of law enforcement to contain and eliminate all gang activity, different subsets of the ‘400’ and ‘600’ continue to organize,” Gardner said. “These subsets consist primarily of teenagers who band together with the common purpose of trafficking narcotics.”
The Boyd Street shooting ensued when two subsets of 15- to 16-year-olds exchanged fire.
“The members have named their respective gangs the FNN or ‘Fear No Ni[**]ers’ and the BTK or ‘Born To Kill,’” Gardner said in the news release. “At this time, the evidence suggests that the shootings, and subsequent shots fired that transpired late evening into early morning August 21/22, are isolated events resulting from the exchange of gunfire between members of the FNN and the BTK.”
In another incident on Aug. 19, 16-year-old Shamier James Gadson allegedly approached an older man from behind on Edwin Street, drew his firearm and fired at the man at close range.
The man drew his own weapon and fired back at Gadson, striking him several times in self defense, according to city police.
Gadson was charged as an adult shortly after his release from the hospital. Charges filed include felonies of criminal attempted homicide, aggravated assault, misdemeanors of possession of an instrument of crime, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person.
An Aug. 17 homicide on Hepburn Street remains a mystery, and police have not said if it is related to gang violence. The victim is a 20-year-old male who was shot in the head.
While Slaughter said he is encouraged by the community’s recent response, continued efforts to prevent youth crime are still vital.
“It’s our job to try to reach out to these individuals … say, ‘Listen, we have some resources. There are opportunities out there. Allow us to help you get the resources that you need to be successful.’ And if they do choose to commit a crime, then it is our job to investigate and hold them accountable,” Slaughter said.
Violent crime among youth is a small percentage of the overall crime committed in the community, Slaughter added. He cautioned residents against looking at all youth in the city as violent criminals.
“Unfortunately, some youth feel like this is their only way out or their only mechanism of survival. But, no, I don’t think it’s overwhelmingly the way that the youth are now,” Slaughter said. “The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep them out of the life of crime and be productive members of Williamsport and society as a whole.”