ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — As a mass shooting unfolded in Richmond Tuesday, authorities on crime and violence prevention from across Virginia and the country were gathered in Roanoke at the 2023 Conference on Violent Crime.
Violence Intervention Specialist for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Dr. Deyonta Johnson said his sole responsibility is to build programming that targets youth violence. A mass shooting outside a high school graduation was an unavoidable topic of discussion at the conference.
“Everyone was still in shock,” he said. “Having been at this conference, a lot of the topics covered addressed this.”
The alleged shooter at Huguenot High School’s graduation ceremony was 19 years old, not a juvenile, but Johnson said stopping the violence starts early.
The average age of Virginia juveniles taken in for violent crime is between 15 and 16 years old, he shared. A lot of his work is about putting programs and services in place so that kids who may be tempted to join a gang or resort to other crimes in order to survive, have tools at their disposal to avoid the risk.
Johnson said it was just last Wednesday that his team began the ‘Gang Resistance Education and Training’ program in Richmond, only six days before the shooting. Police said Wednesday they have no information that the shooter was in a gang, but Johnson said the program teaches youth how to avoid risky situations and violence in general.
“We are striving to do all that we can to address the gangs and the violence across the Commonwealth,” he said.
He added youth violence is going to require a multisystemic approach because it’s a multisystemic problem.
“It all the more substantiates why we need violent crime conferences, why we need programming throughout the state, why we need law enforcement and probation teams to be working together to ensure public safety,” said Dr. Johnson.