Victims' mom returns to church where sons shot

February 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A special evening service was held Tuesday night to reassure members of the New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ that it is safe to come back and 90 members did so.

"Lord, I didn't know the names of those young men that walked into this church, but tonight, I pray for them and I ask that you can save them; that you would turn their lives around," said Bishop J.W. Macklin to the crowd.

The mother of the victims, Rosalind Johnson, attended the service by herself. She says her 14-year-old was shot in the back shoulder blade and her 19-year-old son was shot in the shin. She had a message for the suspects.

"I have no ill feelings toward them and just trust and believe in the Lord. They need to think about what happened," said Johnson.

She also told her sons to trust in the Lord and cooperate with the police. Church members have set a goal to knock on 10,000 Richmond doors. They want to talk about family issues and pray with residents.

Meanwhile, City Councilman Nat Bates says he is calling for a council discussion on policing strategies at the March 2nd meeting. However, he says it is going to take all segments of Richmond to respond in order to push for stronger protection.

In regards to losing a battle over traffic checkpoints, in which he argued for them, Bates said "We need a total community support. As an African-American, I'm the only one on the council and as you've indicated, I don't have the votes. So the community has to express themselves."

Accusations of racial profiling ended that policing strategy, but now a lot of residents appear willing to put up with them if it means it will curb the violence.

The March council meeting will give the community a chance to share their policing strategies with city leaders.

The shots fired in church Sunday were just the latest in a string of disturbingly violent crimes in Richmond. A pregnant woman was killed last week as she sat in a parked car and a high school student was gang raped outside her homecoming dance last October.

Community leaders say that a line was definitely crossed with Sunday's shooting and they are moved to action. A Tuesday evening meeting is just the first step.

Pastor Archie Levias and his congregation are thankful Sunday's violence did not claim more victims. While they try to make sense of a brazen weekend shooting inside their church, they also are trying to make sure it does not happen again.

"The people, the parents got to come together and be mother and fathers," Levias says. "Otherwise, it's going to get out of hand. It's out of hand now."

Video shot by a parishioner on Sunday shows the choir in full voice, when several shots ring out and people dive for cover. According to witnesses, three men in hooded sweatshirts burst into the church and one of them started shooting. That is when the two brothers were injured.

Now, parishioners of the church are trying to come up with their own plan for stopping the violence.

"We believe that God is going to bring us out of it, but also we believe that even the youngsters... We believe that God is going to bless them also," says parishioner Mother Harris.

"We've reached a new low here in the city of Richmond," says Reverend Andre Shumake with the Richmond Improvement Association. He is heading a group of church leaders planning a large-scale community outreach effort for next month. "We will be knocking on 10,000 doors. We will be praying for these families, getting their prayer requests and identifying needs that they have within their families."

At 18 percent, Richmond's unemployment rate is much higher than the rest of the state.

Richmond Vice-Mayor Jeff Ritterman says, "You reap what you sew." He says the violence is just a symptom of Richmond's larger problems.

"We know that those people who are unemployed are going to make money somehow and of course a lot of them are going to be in the underground economy, and the underground economy is always full of violence," he says.

The effort to knock on 10,000 doors begins March 3 and organizers say it will last for several days. As for the investigation, police said Monday that they thought they were getting close. So far, there have been no arrests.


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