Young Victims, Young Suspects

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - As we have seen over the past year, anyone at any age can lose their lives to violence. But when you are talking about young people, the concern seems to go to another level.

Whether that young person is killed or is the killer, the shock is magnified.

"Part of me is gone. The pain is... you can't describe it," said Tara Finch, the mother of Zachary Finch.

"You go on, but you can't go on. So your car is in drive but you are not going anywhere," said Daniel Frazier, the father of Anthony Frazier.

The Finch family and the Frazier family didn't know each other before this year, but both lost sons to shootings in 2017.

Fourteen-year-old Anthony Frazier was shot and killed after coming home from a birthday celebration. Twenty-one-year-old Zachary Finch was killed while trying to sell his cellphone.

"It was not one life taken. Zachary was loved by so many people - it was hundreds of lives," said Tara Finch.

"All the years I played football, and was in the military, and had the 'alpha male' guy moments and stuff like that... this takes your breath away," said Frazier's father several months after his son's death.

Anthony Frazier is one of two victims between the ages of 14 and 17 to be killed this year. Zachary Finch is one of 17 victims between the ages of 18 and 24 to die in 2017.

"They run the gamut as to why these folks are victims and suspects. I cannot pinpoint one particular reason," said Lt. Alex Watson with CMPD's Homicide division. "From an emotional standpoint, obviously because of the age, it kind of raises the stakes."

Frazier's case demonstrates just how young these victims can be, but when you look at how Zachary Finch was killed, the ages of the suspects jumps out. All three suspects in his case were all under 17 years old.

"I don't understand how at 15 you can have no regard for human life, that you can have so much hatred," said Tara Finch.

"Try and find out specifically where these guns are coming from. With the ages 14 through 17 and anything under 21, you have to wonder how these individuals are acquiring guns," said Lt. Watson.

So far in 2017, three teens ages 14-17 and 29 teens ages 18-24 have been arrested in homicide cases.

"Within one second they change the lives of a victim, their families, and their own lives," said Watson.

Although the numbers show that the youth homicide rates are not much different than the five-year average, CMPD is putting more resources than ever into youth diversion programs.

"There is a real sense of urgency to look at the underlining reasons," said Lt. Watson.

One of those programs is the Childhood Development and Community Policing initiative.

"I would say that we have a youth exposed to violence problem that most people do not know about. It is a public epidemic," said Sarah Greene, Manager of Trauma and Justice Partnership for Public Health.

The goals of the program are to both increase officer awareness and identification of children exposed to violence and other trauma, and increase clinical assessment and coordinated services to targeted children and families.

"They may become the people that are involved in the criminal justice system as an adult, and they may become the people that are actually committing those crimes," said Greene.

Organizations like Heal Charlotte are also making an impact. Heal Charlotte was founded by Greg Jackson and focuses on bridging the gap between people, city leaders, and police.

Jackson also focuses on Charlotte's youth.

"If everyone did a little bit, no one would have to do a lot," said Jackson.

Currently, there are 55 young people who spend their afternoons playing basketball, reading, or talking with mentors through his youth camps.

"We wanted to create our own pipeline, our own cycle. Things we create so we are more in control of the kids and what the hear, and what they take in as sponges," said Jackson. "We need to create these cycles where there is no idle time for you. There is no time for you to sit down and wonder about the other side."

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