St. Petersburg leaders take aim at teen murders

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Standing with the family of a teenage homicide victim, community leaders renewed a call to open abandoned buildings around St. Pete as community centers, saying they are needed to serve teens who have nowhere else to go.

"We have too many dormant buildings," said Jeffrey Copeland of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Two seventeen-year-olds have been killed in the last week and four in the last month in St. Petersburg.

Two young adults have died as well.

"It'll take forever to get over Gabe," said Gabriel Wallace's uncle Craig Swain.

Two days later, it is of little comfort that police say that Abrion Witcher is on the run after killing Gabriel Wallace during an argument.

"Turn the other cheek, and when something is getting ready to happen, so that's not right," said Swain.

Wallace's family stood with community organizers outside the abandoned Jordan Park Gym.

The leaders point to the one-time haven of sports, art and academics as a wasted space in a time of need.

"If you ride through our streets out here, kids are on the corner doing absolutely nothing," Copeland said.

The building's former director says the gym is now owned by St. Pete college.

"We gotta teach our kids that our kids are actually important and that they do mean something," said Copeland.

Police say nothing links the deaths of 16-year-old Lennie Acostas on November 10th, of 18-year-old Jarrod Evans on November 29th, of 17-year-old Tyler Lord Wednesday night, and of Wallace.

"If it was a pattern, we could do a lot of things to stop it," said Asst. Chief Jim Previtera.

Rather, leaders say the community at large needs to ask what its priorities are, and how to stop violence before another 21-year-old has to wonder why his little brother is already gone.

"If you can't get words out, you know it's pretty sad," said Swain.

There was a councilwoman-elect on hand who is related to Wallace, and she says she will make it a priority to develop programs for teenagers.