NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The basketball court at the Southside Boys and Girls Club is where Kristopher Edmonds should have been with his friends on a Wednesday morning.
Instead, loved ones were gathering at his home to prepare for the long goodbye.
Kristopher, who turned 15 in May, was gunned down a block from his home. Two other teenagers survived a hail of gunfire. The person who killed Kristopher is still at large, and so is the person who killed 15-year-old Teonna Coburn Saturday night on East Tanners Creek Drive.
Concerns about the recent uptick in violence dominated emotional public discussion in Tuesday night’s Norfolk City Council meeting.
One speaker, Cameron Bertrand, is the founder of Violence Intervention & and Prevention. He is also an innocent victim of gun violence in Norfolk. He was wounded six years ago just outside Norfolk State University.
“Even as I am partially paralyzed, I stand here with this compression sleeve on my leg. Every day when I go into these communities, they [youth] look for somebody who looks like them and understands what they are going through,” said Bertrand.
Many say gun violence, much of it involving children, should be addressed as a public health crisis.
Stacey Robinson, founder of Kings in Need of Development, is a former drug kingpin. He used to control several drug markets in the region but today Robinson is working to control gun violence.
“These killings of the Black male is really not getting talked about and I think it is a public health issue. I think we have to address it as such,” said Robinson in an interview near the spot where Kristopher and two others were shot. Robinson grieves for the lives lost in senseless and unpredictable violence. In many recent cases, the suspects and the victims are children.
“Yes, definitely, [it’s heartbreaking] to see young kids getting murdered that you just talked to two or three days ago. It’s very heartbreaking,” Robinson said.
Kristopher was killed on Thurgood Street in Diggstown. That’s where the grassroots organization Stop the Violence held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night in memory of Kristopher.
Kristopher’s family received a strong show of support during the vigil. His grandmother said she appreciates the turnout.
Going forward, she said she hopes young people can find something better to do with their time.
“Yes, they need to open up these community centers so they have somewhere to go and something to do because they don’t have nothing to do but run out in the street,” she said.
Leaders with Stop the Violence spoke about finding ways to get young people out of the streets. They are working on getting the recreation centers and the boys and girls clubs back open.
A block away from the location of the vigil, two large trees serve as bases for aging makeshift memorials for previous victims of violence in the neighborhood. These types of memorials are on display in several neighborhoods plagued by gun violence.
The Norfolk mayor, in a prepared statement, announced plans to employ violence interruption programs as more guns are in younger hands.
In 2020, NPD recovered 920 guns; a 16% increase from 2019,” said Mayor Kenneth Alexander in a prepared remark.
In 2017, clusters of guns were recovered just outside downtown and in the Southside, where Kristopher died.
Police Chief Larry Boone told 10 On Your Side the program could resemble Operation Ceasefire, which has been successfully used in Boston and other areas to curb violence.
As Robinson surveyed the scene in Diggstown the day after Kristopher was killed, he happened upon friend folks in the neighborhood call “Youman,” AKA James McRae. Like Robinson, McRae spent time behind bars. He’s part of the grassroots effort to convince gang members to lay their guns down. McRae was released in 2014.
Seven years after his release from prison, McRae offers this assessment of today’s youth, who he says are fiercely competitive about gun possession.
“[They are from] a different generation. It’s almost like a different species — that’s the young ones of today,” McRae said.