MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — At least 100 people gathered for a vigil Thursday evening near where 14-year-old Dmetrius Washington was shot in the head and killed after apparently sneaking out of his house.
Among those who stood where he died were his mom, dad and stepdad.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Photos of the vigil
The vigil follows five homicides, all shootings, in Muskegon Heights since late April, including three in the last three weeks.
“This really hurt. And not just this — all the violence that’s going on,” Dmetrius’s stepfather, Robert Fletcher said. “It’s real sad, what’s happened to our community. I can remember being 14 years old. I didn’t have to worry about somebody gunning me down.”
Muskegon Heights — a city of 10,000 people — has had more homicides this year than the city of Grand Rapids, which has nearly 200,000 people. Grand Rapids has had two homicides.
“All the people that are just getting killed, it’s just ridiculous,” said Dmetrius’s aunt, Debra McBride. “You’re not safe to walk in your own neighborhood. That’s sad.”
But it goes beyond the murders.
A 24 Hour News 8 analysis of 2013 Michigan State Police crime reports found Muskegon Heights is more dangerous than Flint and has a violent crime rate that ranks just below Detroit.
Muskegon Heights had 1,787 violent crimes per 100,000 people last year — compared to 1,934 in Detroit and 1,586 in Muskegon. Grand Rapids’s rate was 679. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and assault.
Those numbers worry Muskegon Heights City Councilman Vernonell Smith, who has three teenage children at home.
“It makes me nervous for not just my children,” he said. “It makes me nervous for the next person. It makes me nervous for the parent that I don’t even know, that somebody can get out here and be shot by a stray bullet.”
He said it’s about gangs, guns and parents.
“There’s a lot of gang violence that’s starting to erupt in the area,” he said. “A lot of it’s been retaliation, somebody going into one area and if they’re feeling it’s their turf, they’re coming back in retaliation.”
Too many young people are carrying guns, he said.
And, he said, parents need to watch out for their kids.
“I have three teenagers at home, and I constantly get up in the middle of the night checking to make sure my children are in the home,” he said. “We need more people to speak up instead of being silent. You have more people that don’t want to get involved, but then, at the same time, say we need to do more.”
Mayor Darrell Paige said it’s also about his city’s economy.
Paige points to the empty lots and buildings where there were once factories — Lift-Tech, Textron.
City officials said they have added part-time police officers in response to the violence and plan to crack down on curfew violations.
But Dmetrius’s aunt thinks the solution starts with churches.
“Instead of the churches staying inside the church, they need to come out on the streets and help these kids who are standing on these corners and get them back into church,” McBride said. “Because that’s the only way it’s going to stop.”