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Police and fire

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Vance Ross and Ashley James discuss the benefits of Project Next Generation Group, a youth-mentoring program.

Adaptation, information keys to safe environment


David Crago sat on his porch late Tuesday morning, drifting in and out of sleep while his two small dogs played in the backyard, barking loudly at passers-by.

Crago and his wife, Mary, have lived in their home on Gaywood Drive for nearly 32 years. For the most part, they feel safe, despite the violence being reported around them.

The Cragos live a couple of blocks from the last known address of 19-year-old Montez Antonio Brooks, who died March 31.

Brooks, a former linebacker at Bishop Luers High School, was taken to Parkview Randallia Hospital suffering from gunshot wounds and died a short time later. His death was ruled the city’s 14th homicide of the year.

“That’s just life; you can’t get away from life,” Crago said.

Crago’s neighborhood is lined with small one-family homes, a few fences and scruffy lawns marking the homes that haven’t been lived in for a while. Nearby, there’s a park where children play and a small convenience store for snacks and drinks – with bulletproof glass securing the register.

Eight or nine years ago, there was a shooting down the street, and once, a stray bullet flew through the wall of Crago’s bedroom early one morning while he and his wife were sleeping.

“The kids here, they have working mothers and no fathers, no one around to watch them and keep them out of trouble,” he said.

Around the corner, on Oxford Street, Terrell Forrest talked with Latrice Washington as he waited for the bus. Forrest said he’s lived in the area for about six years and feels mostly safe.

“I’ve seen it, I’ve definitely heard it,” Forrest said about the violence. “But it’s all about attitude.”

Washington, who has eight grown children and several grandchildren, said minding your business and staying out of the way is the key to safety, even in the city’s roughest spots.

“Don’t get in where you don’t fit in,” she said, quoting a bit of advice she shared with her children. “I hear a lot of sirens and gunshots and you just have to adapt to that. You got to learn to adjust, you got to know to get down and get out of the way.”

Washington said even her 5-year-old grandson knows what to do when he’s playing outside and hears gunshots.

“He hears that shot and he covers his ears and comes in the house,” she said. “He knows to duck and try to keep out of the way.”

Ashley James, a former Fort Wayne resident who now lives in Lansing, Mich., chatted with people Tuesday as they wandered by her car parked on Gaywood Drive.

James said she’s aware of the violence that has happened in the area but also has a plan to help correct it.

With Project Next Generation Group, James would go door-to-door, talking to people about ways to keep kids safe, how to teach them to avoid gangs, drugs and alcohol, and ways to make a change to benefit the whole community. With fundraising, she hopes the program can spread from the group of about 15, ages 5 to 20, to hundreds.

“Not everybody can just jump up and move,” she said. “… If we want it to get better, we got to make the change here, in these neighborhoods.”