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After kids slain, a call for unity in Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS -- Responding to a spate of shootings that killed two teens this week, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and others across north Minneapolis on Friday urged parents and volunteers to get involved in young teenagers' lives to ensure more ki...

MINNEAPOLIS -- Responding to a spate of shootings that killed two teens this week, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and others across north Minneapolis on Friday urged parents and volunteers to get involved in young teenagers' lives to ensure more kids aren't lost to violence.

"We know in this community that we've had huge success when everybody pulls together," Rybak said Friday at the spot where 14-year-old Quantell Braxton died Sunday in north Minneapolis. "Here we have some specific rivalries going on that [in] normal situations with 12-year-olds would be kids fighting," Rybak said. "Put guns into the mix and it's deadly."

No arrests have been made in the slayings of Ray'Jon Gomez, 13, shot Wednesday, or Braxton, 14, shot Saturday. No clear motivation for either shooting has emerged, and police have not publicly stated whether they are connected.

The deaths come amid a rise in shootings on the North Side in the past several weeks that Police Chief Tim Dolan characterized as "rapid and as of yet unexplained." He urged parents in the Willard-Hay neighborhood where the shootings occurred to get their children inside before dark.

Investigators also have asked that anyone with information on either shooting contact police. Members of Braxton's family, with police and city leaders, plan to announce on Monday an award of $1,000 for information in the slayings.

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Youth workers and others expressed shock at the age of the victims, saying on Friday that the homicides should stand as a call for more adults to get involved in kids' lives.

KMOJ-DJ and north Minneapolis youth worker Sy Huff said the radio station was overwhelmed with calls from people who said something must be done. He urged listeners to mentor young people through the Boys and Girls clubs, public schools or faith-based programs such as Young Life and Hospitality House Youth Development.

"If there's a secret answer, it's that we just have to start talking," said Huff. "These kids are out there raising themselves."

Tensions remained high in the neighborhood where Gomez died. Jose Amaro, who owns the property where Gomez was found, said a fight broke out Thursday night on his front lawn near a makeshift shrine for Gomez.

Amaro said his family heard the gunshots in the Gomez slaying, then ran to the basement. It's their usual response to gunfire in the neighborhood, he said, adding that it happens regularly.

Cameras on the park

On Friday, the park was nearly abandoned, except for a family with four kids swimming in the pool. Asked why it was so quiet, Amaro pointed to a portable police surveillance camera stationed at one edge of the park.

"See the camera?" he asked. When it's at the park, the bad guys stay away, he said.

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His neighbor Myeisha Kirkwood said her 5-year-old son can't go to the park unless the camera is there. Sometimes the police move it to other trouble spots nearby, and when the camera goes, the bad guys return, she said. "As soon as the camera leaves, everything comes back," she said.

Standing outside her apartment on Friday, she happened to catch Rybak as he stopped by on a bicycle to visit the shrine for Gomez, which sits at the edge of Kirkwood's lawn. Noting the effect the camera has on neighborhood crime, she asked why it's sometimes taken away.

Rybak said there's no "snap of the fingers" solution to solve youth crime. More work needs to be done to prevent youth violence, he said. The exchange ended on friendly terms, as Kirkwood had her picture taken with Rybak.

Kirkwood said that on the night of the shooting, her house was surrounded by police officers who were investigating the crime. She walked back and forth from her front lawn to the back, walking along a narrow passageway between her house and her neighbors' and within a foot or two of Gomez, who lay face down behind a chain-link fence and some tall plants.

"I feel touched by him just because I walked past him," she said. "I don't know if it's for the good or the bad, but this little boy has affected me."

Gang connection?

Police are investigating whether the incidents were gang-related. But the connection is harder to make than it once was, since modern gangs are more amorphous than monoliths like the Bloods and the Crips, police said.

"Gang relationships, particularly on the North Side, are much more complex than they have been in the past," said police Capt. Amelia Huffman.

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Gone are the old rules that existed with larger, more nationally organized gangs, rules that would make it possible for city governments and law enforcement to find some way to work with them.

"We don't know exactly yet what the motivation is" in the Gomez and Braxton slayings, said City Council Member Don Samuels, whose Fifth Ward coverage area includes the Willard-Hay neighborhood where the shootings occurred. If the slayings were gang-related, he said, it could be more difficult to investigate because the younger gangs today are more spontaneous and unpredictable, so much so that they're often referred to as cliques, to distinguish them from the larger, more nationally organized gangs.

"They're just kids," he said.

Sarah Klouda, who works at the Oak Park Center in north Minneapolis, often works with teens involved in gangs. She said the age of the youths involved in the recent murders is shocking.

"When we're talking about gangs and cliques, this might be something new in that category," Klouda said. "Because kids usually aren't typically involved in gangs or cliques at 12, 13 years old."

Klouda said she's not surprised that kids in the area have guns, especially since some have told her they are easier to obtain than a library card.

"It's one thing to possess a gun," Klouda said. "It's another thing to have bullets and carry it on you and not be afraid to use it."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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