Mark Stevens woke up Saturday morning reeling about Friday night’s shootings in the resort area. He was sitting in front of his house at the Oceanfront and heard the gunshots. Stevens is a father, employer and the director of a homeless outreach program for teens.
When violence erupted in the past at the beach, Stevens would do a head count the next morning.
But this time, Stevens felt compelled to do more. He wanted to spark a conversation, get to the root of the problem and figure out ways to prevent it in the future.
“I wasn’t going to sit there and ignore it,” Stevens said. “We need to get everybody together to have a conversation. Why is this happening?”
Two people died and at least eight others were injured in late-night shootings Friday. One involved a police officer who shot and killed Donovon W. Lynch, 25, of Virginia Beach.
As of Sunday afternoon, authorities had charged three people in connection with the shootings.
Stevens, with help from a friend, organized a grassroots community gathering Saturday afternoon near one of the crime scenes. Ministers, business owners, civic league members and city officials, including the mayor and the city manager, participated.
They prayed and touched on some ideas to prevent violence in the resort area, Stevens said.
“Is it about engaging the youth down there instead of ignoring what’s going on?” he asked when reached Sunday by phone.
Virginia Beach is just beginning to dip its toes into the 2021 spring tourist season. Friday was unseasonably warm for late March, and no events were planned.
Mike Hilton, spokesman for the city’s entertainment contracting company, said street performances and family shows in the public parks are on track to begin in May.
“Whether or not the kind of actions we’re seeing down there would be impacted by this kind of entertainment, I like to think it would,” Hilton said. “The city’s been working on a more cohesive approach to making the Oceanfront a better place, and a place that people want to go to, and I think the entertainment is a piece of that.”
Jaketa Thompson is concerned about policing strategies in the resort area. Thompson, who helped Stevens pull together Saturday’s gathering, owns a business and lives at the Oceanfront.
On most busy summer weekends, Virginia Beach police officers patrol on horseback and bicycles. The department did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether those measures were in place on Friday when crowds began to form on Atlantic Avenue.
“There needs to be a more visible police presence,” said Thompson. “When there are large groups, that kind of thing needs to be broken up because that leads to violence.”
Stevens realizes there is no clear-cut solution, but plans to hold another gathering soon to brainstorm more ideas and put a plan in action.
“This was just the start of it,” he said. “I want to open a dialogue.”
Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, firstname.lastname@example.org