Tragedy strengthens community resolve at meeting

By Greg Gelpi

The community has demanded action, and Thursday night more than 1,000 members of the community packed Mundy's Mill High School, saddened by two weekend killings, but resolved to fight gangs.

Only days after a similar number of students stayed away from the school out of fear of continued gang violence, student Ariana Santiago stood up and with an unwavering voice declared, "Not on my watch."

"Crime is in our back yards now," Santiago said. "It's important when it becomes that close to home that it becomes our problem."

Politicians, preachers and parents united to address the common problem of increasing community violence and gang activity brought to the forefront by the killings, including that of Larry Bishop Jr., a member of Mundy's Mill High's community.

The meeting brought Nijal Dunn, a Mundy's Mill senior, to hear what the community intends to do about the problems.

"Pretty much what they're saying will work," Dunn said, worried that problems may grow worse after he leaves. "With some time, it should work."

The problem isn't a school problem, but a community problem and the solution is a community solution, Clayton County Board of Education member Wendell "Rod" Johnson said.

Putting up his own money, Johnson is offering $250 as a reward to anyone who brings forth information that leads to the arrest and capture of Bishop's killer.

"With God before us, who can be against us?" Johnson, who is also a preacher, asked. "So, tonight we're going to put the devil on notice. We're going to put the gang members on notice. You're not going to use our children anymore."

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell announced actions by the county to bring in federal assistance.

Through funding from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Bell said that he will train Clayton County police officers to work with students to avoid gangs. Also through the ATF, guns will be traced to the owners and connected from crime to crime to hold those who supply the guns accountable.

"Timeout for finger-pointing," he said. "Timeout for entertainment. Timeout for politics. It's time to get to work."

Of the 1,916 students enrolled in the school, 1,044 either didn't come to school or were taken out by their parents Monday. The remaining 872 students entered the school through heavy police security.

Clayton County schools Assistant Superintendent Sam King said the past weekend was his toughest in the 21 years he has spent in education.

The school system is collecting the names of students believed to be associated with gangs, so that school officials can talk with them and their families about the illegal activities these gangs are suspected of being involved in, King said.

Two men opened fire at a house party Saturday night, shooting four people, and killing one of them, according to Clayton County Police Department Capt. Jeff Turner, who added that the killing could have been "pay-back" following a fight at Mundy's Mill High School last Friday.

A man in fatigues with an assault rifle and another man with a handgun shot Bishop, Deshawn Marcus Womack, 20, of Jonesboro, Shekidi Nesbeth, 16, of McDonough, and Lachanzny McCord, 16, of McDonough.

A member of the AMP Squad hit a member of the Southside Mafia with something, cutting his mouth, at Mundy's Mill High School last Friday, Turner said.

According to a report made by Clayton County schools to the state Department of Education, weapons in Clayton schools quadrupled in 2004. In 2003, the school system reported finding 44 felony weapons, but in 2004 reported finding 178.