FORT WAYNE – Robert Ward remembers his older brother, Paul, as his “bro” – a 22-year-old with a fun personality who had his back no matter what.
But in December, when Paul W. Ward III was found shot dead in a car in the 700 block of Milton Street, Ward realized he was gone forever.
“Someone chose to put the gun up to him and pulled the trigger. And whoever it was doesn’t know that that’s my brother,” Ward said Thursday during a rally against violence.
A small crowd of about 30 gathered at the Paul Harding Junior High School auditorium, some with their children, others alone, listening and sharing stories about the violence that has pierced their community in recent months.
“My nieces and nephews went to his funeral and saw their father in a casket,” said Ward, an eighth-grader at Harding. “They wanted to talk to him, they went to touch him and try to wake him up … but he’s not going to wake up.”
Charles Washington, Harding’s home-school coordinator, spoke about the reason to rally behind students, especially when it comes to keeping children away from gangs and other potentially destructive forces.
Members of the Allen County Juvenile Probation Department also shared slides and talked to parents about how to recognize gangs.
“Violence stems from all sorts of factors,” Washington said, listing drugs, alcohol and gang activity as just a few of the many pressures facing students on a daily basis. “ … and peer pressure is a strong force. But we don’t give up on students. We won’t give up on students.”
Washington urged parents to remember that all young people deserve not only a second chance, but also third, fourth and sometimes fifth chances.
“We have to show them that we care and we love them,” he said.
Venus Bush, the mother of Justin L. Bush who was killed Halloween night in 2011 at a bar, said in the months and weeks leading up to her son’s death, she struggled to watch the news or read about the violence taking place in her neighborhood.
Bush said she knew dozens of family members, friends and neighbors who had been affected by violence in recent years.
“When it happened to me, I’m telling you, it rocked my world,” Bush said.
Bush encouraged parents to talk with their children about staying in school, choosing the right friends and making sure that if they are headed out somewhere that they are safe.
She also urged the crowd to tell children and others to come forward with information about recent homicides to help solve the cases and make the streets safer for kids.
“No parent, no parent wants to bury their child,” Bush said. “It just isn’t natural.”
Ward, who will soon finish his eighth-grade year, said he now understands the importance of staying off the streets and getting a good education.
“The streets, they’re not going to get you anywhere. We don’t want to see anybody get hurt,” Ward said.