Tampa police address youth gun violence after 15-year-old charged in shooting of 2 teens | #schoolsaftey

Tampa police say they are cracking down on youth gun violence after a 15-year-old shot two other teens in an apartment complex game room last week.

As police investigated the shooting, they found apartment surveillance video that showed a group of teens hanging out around a pool table in the West River Boulevard apartment complex on June 15. When another group of teens entered the room, the video shows two teens from the first group opening fire with handguns and rifles.

Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw said the second group of teens did not appear to return fire.

Two victims were shot, but neither of their injuries were life-threatening.

“Fortunately, no one else was hit,” Bercaw said. “There are families and children in this area. This is children acting like adults, recklessly.”

On Saturday, police arrested a 15-year-old boy seen wielding a pistol in the video. He faces charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, shooting within a building and violation of probation. The video shows another teen using a rifle who had not been arrested as of Wednesday.

Bercaw said another arrest in connection with the case is “on the horizon”.

The shooting is an example of a growing youth gun violence problem in Hillsborough County, State Attorney Suzy Lopez said. After consoling parents who lost their sons and daughters at the hands of fellow children, Lopez said she knows many incidents of youth gun violence do not end as fortunately as this one.

“Events like this can turn out much, much differently,” Lopez said. “I’ve consoled mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in the 10-and-a-half months that I’ve been state attorney.”

Lopez also cited the case of a 13-year-old boy charged with shooting a 16-year-old at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on New Year’s Day as families ice skated nearby; and the slaying of a 15-year-old boy in St. Petersburg, in which three high school seniors have been charged, as proof of Tampa Bay’s youth gun violence problem.

“As a community, we must stand up and say enough is enough,” Lopez said. “When teenagers make adult decisions like we saw in this video, they will not be treated as teenagers in the eyes of the law.”

Lopez said she plans to prosecute teens involved with gun violence harshly, evaluating perpetrators on a case-by-case basis to determine if they should be charged as adults. She said she cannot say whether the 15-year-old arrested in connection with the June 15 shooting will be charged as an adult.

“I can’t talk about specifics regarding this case, but I can tell you that age does not matter,” Lopez said. “If you have a gun and make a reckless decision to shoot at another person, you will not get a free pass in Hillsborough County based on your age.”

The legal age to buy a gun in Florida is 21, but Lopez said teens often get ahold of firearms because gun owners do not responsibly store their weapons. Bercaw said Tampa police have received reports of almost 100 guns being stolen from cars in 2023.

“Lock your car doors — you don’t want your gun stolen and we don’t want your gun on the street,” Lopez said.

Tampa police have launched a gun safety initiative making free firearm locks available at every Tampa Police Department district office.

Beyond law enforcement, Lopez said schools, religious organizations and mentor programs play key roles in preventing youth violence by giving kids positive outlets, which she said are especially important during summer when kids are not in school.

“Kids need mentors, education, summer jobs, a safe place to call home and family support,” Lopez said. “Kids do not need guns.”

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