Halloween shootings latest in Florida’s rising teen violence trend

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando police leaders called the series of Halloween weekend shootings unusually violent. For Florida, though, it was the latest in the state’s rising trend of gun-related youth violence.

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16 people found themselves in the line of fire in four Central Florida counties: Orange, Volusia, Lake and Brevard. Some victims were bystanders. At least one was targeted because of a social media quarrel.

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A number of them were teenagers, the youngest just 13 years old.

“It’s sad. It’s unfortunate,” Eddie Willis, leader of Orlando-based Stop the Violence, said Monday. “You know, we need to do more.”

Across the Sunshine State, children younger than 18 are injured or killed by a bullet close to three out of every four days, according to statistics gathered by the Gun Violence Archive. The rate of injures and death spiked starting at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Archive has gathered data down to the congressional district since 2014. For the three districts covering the Orlando metro area, 19% -- or about one in five – of the recorded shooting injuries and deaths to minors happened in the first 10 months of 2021.

The two weekend incidents, particularly the one resulting from the social media argument, confounded Orlando Police officers.

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“There were officers literally within 20 yards of those individuals involved in that argument,” OPD Chief Orlando Rolón said, adding that the suspects blended into the fleeing crowd.

Willis attributed the rising trend to a combination of factors. He said teens were increasingly lacking conflict resolution skills. Their social media habits were also impacting them, particularly their exposure to videos glorifying violence. They also have relatively easy access to guns.

However, some of those are reflective of America as a whole, where a polarized nation searches for quick wins over the opposing side of an argument instead of slowing down, debating their views and finding common ground to move forward on.

“The next thing you know, it becomes a beef,” he said. “Once you become a beef, now they’ve got to act on it.”

With gun violence the second leading cause of death among Florida’s teenagers, behind only car crashes, Stop the Violence is plowing ahead and advancing its years-long mission to mentor youth. They’re renovating a space that will become a training and workshop room to teach interviewing, conflict resolution and other social skills. Willis is also launching a program to connect underserved teenagers looking for work with businesses desperate to hire help.

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He implored open-minded members of the community to step up and prevent another negatively tainted holiday weekend.

“We’ve all got to put our feet down and put our hands in the pot and get everything done,” he said.

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