SPS, SPD and Commonwealth’s Attorney partner to host gang awareness program

Published 10:26 am Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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Youth violence was the topic of discussion for Suffolk Public Schools and the school community Wednesday night.

In honor of National Youth Violence Prevention Week, SPS families came out to discuss the issue at Suffolk Public Schools’ Gang Violence Awareness Parent and Student Information Session event on Wednesday, April 24, at Kings Fork High School.

Held in partnership with the Suffolk Police Department and Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, the panel included SPD Investigator Kristi Gaines, Operations Cease Fire Attorney Thomas Jack Bondurant and Suffolk Public Schools Coordinator of Student Services David LeFevre. Lakeland High School Intervention Specialist and Project Power Organizer Tray Burch and Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Community Outreach Coordinator Joan R. Turner served as speakers for the evening. The event also saw attendance from School Board Members Kimberly Slingluff and DawnMarie Brittingham.

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During her presentation, Gaines discussed factors that would make someone want to join a gang, including power status, friendship, firearm possessions, money, and family substitutes.

“The realities … serious injuries, death or jail. Those are generally the three things that occur if you participate in violent criminal gang activity,” Gaines said.

Along with her presentation showing gang signs as well as guns and gang types, Gaines discussed warning signs that parents should look for in their children, such as changes in appearance, behavior, language, violence, tattoos, withdrawal from everyday activities, graffiti, and more. Turner shared her story of losing her son Quantez Russell, who went missing on Nov. 11, 2015, after a history of gang violence as an older youth and as an adult.

“When Quantez was in the 7th and 8th grade at JFK Middle School, I did not have a clue that he was being bullied. He did not tell me until he turned 27 years of age that he was being bullied,” Turner said. “And we always wondered why he was misbehaving. He never told us and so, he was always in timeout in school and timeout at home.”

Discussing his years in Lakeland High School, Turner detailed that Russell was caught with imitation crack cocaine and was eventually arrested for being involved in gangs. Fast-forward to Russell’s adult life, Turner discussed when she got word of her son going missing after receiving a call saying that Russell was “shot and unresponsive” in Newport News. Seven months after that day, Turner says she received a call from a number that contained all zeroes.

“And I didn’t know who that could have been, and they tried to trace it. Of course, it was untraceable, and that person on that end of that phone told me that my son had been shot in the head, and they bound his hands and feet with chains and threw him in the James River,” she said. “And with several months passing, I believe that is true – because it’s my understanding Quantez was involved in some heavy drug and gang people and dealings, things that he did not learn from home.”

Turner emotionally said that on March 20, 2024, the judge declared her son “deceased without a body.”

“I know I’ve been depressed, but I know I have to continue because he has a son, I have a daughter, I have a husband, and other people in my life that mean so well to me,” she said.

Following the session, SPS Communications and Community Engagement Officer Anthonette Dickens called the event “informative” and “impactful.” The last of the division’s Developing Safe Communities and Schools Series for the current school year, Dickens says that the program was made to inform students and parents on ways to keep their children and community safe.

“We hear in the news every day, something’s happening every day in these schools, in these communities, and so we need to be able to have these conversations, transparently, amongst the groups, but we need to be able to also work together collaboratively if we’re ever going to make a dent, make a change, make an impact in what we’re seeing around us,” Dickens said.

Burch and Turner each gave comments. Burch discussed the paintings he brought of victims made by SPS students.

“I partnered with my students at Lakeland High School as well as the other two high schools in Suffolk to have our talented art students paint portraits of those that we’ve lost in the City of Suffolk due to gun violence,” Burch said. “All of those individuals painted were students of ours at Suffolk Public Schools, and all of them unfortunately we lost here in the City of Suffolk.”

Turner says that she believed the session went “very, very well.”

“I think everybody is working collectively and collaboratively, and I feel that if more parents and students would come out, even just citizens themselves would come out to events like this to learn more about what gangs are and how they become who they are and signs to look for, I think it would be advantageous for them and the community in which they live,” Turner said.

On what she hopes residents will take away from her and Russell’s story, Turner emphasized it can happen to other families, regardless of their background. She also shared that parents and loved ones should watch for signs in their children.

“Like the change in the color. His favorite color was always blue all of a sudden it became red and then when it became red, I started buying him Michael Jordan things because it was red with the hint of black. I didn’t know that Quantez was involved with the bloods. I didn’t talk about bloods or crips or any other kind of gangs in my house,” Turner said. “So I don’t understand how he went into that direction unless he possibly wanted to be something that he wasn’t and to appease everybody. He was the type, he wanted everybody and wanted them to be his friend.”