OCALA, Fla. — The Ocala community is dealing with a recent rash of shootings, many involving young people.
On Sunday, police say they were called to a drive-by shooting in which a juvenile was grazed by a bullet.
Days earlier, Ocala police were investigating two more shootings within 24-hours of each other that left a 16-year-old boy dead and another 18-year-old seriously injured.
Now, the Ocala Police Department is calling on the community to help prevent the shootings.
“One thing I do know, from my experience, is it’s going to escalate,” says Rev. Darrell Tolbert of L-Jireh Ministries in Ocala. “That’s what it does...crime escalates.”
Rev. Tolbert speaks from experience, having been involved in violent crime once himself, selling drugs, and losing loved ones.
“I had a cousin real close...a guy was trying to kill me. She took my bullets because she was standing beside me,” Rev. Tolbert recalls.
That’s why Rev. Tolbert says it pains him to see what’s happened in Ocala recently with at least five shootings reported just this month.
On Thursday, at the Sutton Place Apartments, a 16-year-old boy was killed. Police are still looking for a suspect in the shooting.
The next day, at the Promenade Apartments, an 18-year-old was seriously wounded.
A K-9 was able to track the 19-year-old suspect in that shooting, Jihad Elvy, to a nearby wooded area.
“It’s not OK for us to lose our youth in this manner,” Capt. Angy Scroble of the Ocala Police Department said.”
Police haven’t been able to determine a single cause for the recent shootings, or whether any of them are connected. They’re asking for increased support- and information- from the community.
“We’d like to have those guns and take them out of the hands of our youth, get them off the streets,” Capt. Scroble said.
Meanwhile, Rev. Tolbert has joined a group that supports the families of crime victims. They’ve been entering high crime areas, trying to convince young people to leave lives of crime before they end up in prison, shot, or killed.
“It’s not that simple,” Rev. Tolbert says. “A lot of times you get trapped in there and you don’t know how to get out of this lifestyle.”
Pastor Tolbert says he’s been planning a community barbeque as a chance to bring people together and connect with parents and young people. He says the recent violence may push them to get it done sooner.
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