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Community, officials vow fight against gangs

By Greg Gelpi

Fighting tears, Stacy Sims described walking up the steps and seeing her son's shoes before police and medics loaded him on a stretcher and ushered her away.

Sims is the mother of Riverdale High School freshman Theodore Howard Jr., 15, who was shot in the head Saturday night and remains in critical condition.

Howard was visiting friends on Kings Road in Riverdale and had called his mother to pick him up. She was on the way when her son was shot.

Clayton County Police Department Capt. Jeff Turner said Howard and his friends heard a barrage of gunfire when they were playing at Flat Shoals Park earlier Saturday.

"And minutes later, they reported a second barrage of gunfire, but this time the bullets were coming into the house where they were," Turner said.

Sims neared Kings Road when she called her son back to get directions to his friends' house, but got no response.

"I heard the sirens and just followed the police," Sims said. "As I stepped on the steps, I saw my son's tennis shoes."

But, while one mother had a son in a hospital bed Monday night, parents of two Clayton County teens killed in recent weeks joined ministers, county residents and community leaders at Divine Faith Ministries in Jonesboro in addressing the problems that have claimed Clayton's children.

"The way my son was murdered no parent should have to bury a son or a daughter," Evelyn Bishop, whose son was killed last month, said. "I just pray that a lot comes of this."

She described her son as a good child, one "full of life."

Monday night served as a time of coming together over an issue that had previously divided elected officials.

As law enforcement and elected officials put forth plans for saving the county's children, the Rev. Donald Battle asked who would step forward to lead the efforts amidst the division between Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell and Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill.

To that, Hill responded by shaking hands with Bell and sharing a hug in a sign that the two would work together, rather than separately, to address gang activity.

Bell announced the assistance of the FBI, GBI and two officers dedicated to working full time in Clayton County from the ATF.

In addition, Hill said that he will be introducing a Scared Straight program. He unveiled his Cobra Unit, a unit dedicated to suppressing gang activity, recently.

Clayton County police Capt. Don Colburn said that the problem must be addressed before it requires law enforcement, asking the community to get involved.

Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske outlined proven approaches to reducing such activity, pointing to gun suppression, a Juvenile Court strategy, community mobilization and educational strategies, among other tactics.

Ultimately, though, each official said that the community, particularly the family, must step up and reclaim the county's children and help to battle the gang problem.

Police have recovered four or five spent shells near the scene where Howard was shot, Turner said.

"There's nothing to indicate that he was a target," Turner said.

Riverdale High School Principal Gloria Duncan described Howard as an "A-B student" with no discipline problems. Duncan said the gifted student was preparing to go out for the football team.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Sims said. "I just don't understand why it had to happen to him."

Turner said that no arrests have been made and that anyone with information should call the Police Department at (770) 477-3605.