Lexington program tries to get to the root of teen gun violence

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — The city of Lexington has had 28 homicides so far this year.

Seven of the victims were teenagers as are some of the accused killers.

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We talked with the city about a program designed to get to the root of the problem of kids killing kids.

The problem is easy and often hard to solve – stopping violent crime. Lexington is trying with a program called SafetyNet.

“I think everyday we wake up and we think how is it that we can better invest in our community, and our youth and our families and I think we’ll keep doing that until no more lives are lost and no more guns are used to deal with conflict,” says Laura Hatfield, director of ONE Lexington.

Why is there a sudden rise in gun violence, specifically among teenagers?

Hatfield thinks there’s more guns on the streets than ever before.

“Easier access especially for our youth,” says Hatfield. “Not knowing how to effectively deal with conflict.”

That’s where SafetyNet comes in which is made up of neighbors, mentors, police, faith leaders and social service agencies.

SafetyNet gives those involved or impacted by gun violence an opportunity to speak with a street outreach worker, someone they can relate to like Julius Johnson.

“It kinda surprises a lot of youth when you talk to them and they’re like ‘dang you’ve been through it, you know what I’m going through,” says Johnson, a street outreach worker for SafetyNet.

He says most young people who come through SafetyNet have witnessed or experienced violence in their past.

“The gun is just a symptom and the issues are so much deeper so I bypass the symptom and go straight to talk to try to figure out the root,” says Johnson.

He knows from experience that trauma can lead to a life of violence. For a time, that was his life. He lost two friends at a young age and says those losses made him want to retaliate with more violence.

“I wanted them to feel the loss, the pain I felt,” says Johnson.

And that’s how he reaches these kids with personal testimony.

“The greatest thing I can do is not really scientific or anything it’s really just listening,” says Johnson.

Johnson and Hatfield say often gun violence is a form of retaliation – someone disrespected someone on social media and they feel the need to get even with a gun.

SafetyNet tries to show kids there’s a better solution, a better life out there for them and that the answer isn’t at the end of a gun barrel.

To learn more about SafetyNet, click here.

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Christy Bollinger joined the ABC 36 news team as a reporter in March 2018. Christy comes from a little western Kentucky town called Cadiz. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May 2017 with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Criminology. Christy is thrilled to be working at her dream job in her home state. She is passionate about storytelling and you can see her weekdays on ABC 36 News at 5 and 6 p.m. She's covered everything from visits from the sitting president and vice president, to high-profile murder cases. When not chasing stories, Christy loves nothing more than being at the beach and says life is just better with sand between your toes and waves crashing at your feet. She is also a big animal lover. She's a fur momma and her mini-Australian Shepherd, Milly, standard Australian Shepherd, Bennie, and her Maine Coon, Cheeto, are the loves of her life. Christy encourages you to send her any story ideas you may have. Find her on Facebook at Christy Bollinger ABC 36, tweet her @ChristyB_news, or email her at CBollinger@wtvq.com.