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City of Peoria, Youth seeking ways to cut down the violence

More than a dozen people under 27 years old arrested for violent crimes in 24 hr

PEORIA - The Peoria community is trying to catch its breath following more than a dozen young people arrested for violent crimes in less than 24 hours.  

First, 15 suspected gang members, most under 27 years old, arrested for violent crimes, including murder. One of those men allegedly gave a juvenile the handgun later used to kill two young adults at a house party near Bradley University.

Then Tuesday evening, police received a call about a 13 year old male shot in the chest. A 15 year old is in custody for pulling the trigger.

Wallace Whittemre, a student in Quest Academy, knew both of the teens.

"Maybe I should not hang out with them if they want to deal with gun stuff," he says. "Next thing you know I could get shot and you never know." 

The circumstances surrounding the shooting on McClure Avenue are not yet clear. The injured teen's health is reportedly improving.       

Whittemre and more than 80 other students are participating in a two-week long program by the Don't Start Initiative and Quest Academy. The summer sessions work with students who are identified as needing a "reset", says Quest Academy executive director Dr. Taunya Jenkins. Counselors work with the students on leadership, behavior and social emotional issues. 

Tuesday, Jenkins says they talked about the recent violence and arrests in the city.

"Just helping them to understand that what you do as a choice -- 30 seconds later could have life long consequences," she said.

Other students, like Lucas Armstrong, are tired of losing friends and loved ones to gun violence or the prison system.

"My uncle was shot a few times and I've seen that happen with my own eyes," said Armstrong. "And I don't want any else feel that pain."

"When students are living this on a daily basis and they are experiencing it and we as adults are acting  like it doesn't exist, then they are left to try to deal with it on their own. And that's where the anger and frustrations come," said Jenkins.

It does not take long to realize these students are ready for this conversation. In fact, they welcome it, and think many of their peers need to hear it.

"Some people are doing these things they didn't have any body there to talk to them about these thing, so they're making the wrong choices because they don't have anybody by their side," said tenth grader Ma-Kenzee Irby.

"What we should do as a community is basically talk to those young people who are going through stuff and feel like they have nobody to talk to and at least talk to them, because putting guns out and killing people that are your own age and race -- that's not right," eleventh grader Zatayia Lindsey. "That's not doing anything because it's more dead bodies in 2018 than it was last year-- and that should be what's going on."

Angel Cruz, focused deterrence and outreach coordinator, works with past offenders to help guide them away from violence and crime. He says the community must unite to help the children of the suspected gang members.

"We don't need another 15 or another 30 to be indicted," he said. "What we need to do is reach out to their kids and say there is hope. There is hope."

Peoria is not the only community dealing with these issues. In Bloomington, a 26-year-old man was arrested Tuesday for the June 10th murders of two young adults. And a 19-year-old is in custody for a recent shooting at Galesburg's Railroad Days.

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