Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 3, 2013

Incident spurs concern for safety of area children

BLUEFIELD — A shooting Tuesday at a local playground has some members of the community concerned for the safety of children in the area.

Nancy Looney of Bluefield said her grandson lives on Augusta Street but is not permitted to play at the East River Playground due to his father’s concerns over the area’s safety.

“Incidents like this are nothing new for that area,” Looney said. “My son never lets my grandson play there. Things like this happen there a lot. The police would have to patrol that area constantly to keep it safe.”

However, Looney said she used to consider the playground a safe place for her own children.

“It was nice when my kids were growing up and I know they have been trying to fix it up,” she said. “They have put all that nice equipment up there, but I think it will just get torn up. The kids aren’t going to play there if the parents don’t feel safe anyway. It really is a shame. The playground should be a place for the kids.”

Dionne Taylor moved to the area three weeks ago and said she has taken her two small children down to the East River Playground on several occasions.

“We saw where they put all that new equipment up,” she said. “We have been down there a few times since we moved. When I am sitting on my front porch, I see police patrol through this area all the time, so it seemed safe.”

Taylor said the news of violence at the playground was shocking and she hoped people in the neighborhood could get together to discourage any more violence in an area reserved for children to play.

“I don’t know what more the police can do,” Taylor said. “You can crack down on gun laws, but criminals will still get them. I hope other people in the neighborhood are concerned about this and I hope people in the neighborhood will get involved to stop this sort of thing from happening.”

Kevin Roberts, who also lives on Augusta Street, said he has noticed an increase in violence in the community.

“This nation needs to get back to God,” he said. “It is terrible what has happened to this country. It seems like we live in a small community but more and more we keep reading about all of this violence in our area.”

Roberts said when his children were younger the playground was a very popular place for youngsters.

“My children played there,” he said. “It was a nice little playground. It was a good place to take the kids. Of course, there used to be a lot more children in the neighborhood then.”

Lt. C.S. Myers with the Bluefield Police Department said the shooting incident — which occurred at 2:43 a.m. Tuesday morning — is very rare and police regularly monitor local playgrounds. Myers said the East River Playground itself was not a target but rather just a common meeting ground for the parties involved.

“It was in the early morning hours, so I don’t think it was much of a safety issue for any kids,” Myers said. “This isn’t typically much of an issue, especially during the times when you can normally expect to see children on the streets.”

However, Myers said parents are encouraged to inform police if they witness any suspicious activity.

“If people say anything or think anything is suspicious, day or night, we want them to let us know,” Myers said.

City Manager Jim Ferguson said the shooting was an “isolated incident.”

“The officers have indicated to me this was an isolated incident that took place near the playground,” Ferguson said. “Our police department was on top of this and I do commend their work for making an arrest so quickly. Of course, anytime you hear of a shooting in the city it is disconcerting, wherever it occurs. It could be anywhere in the city and I would have the same concerns.”

Ferguson said he and Bluefield City Parks and Recreation Director Dwight Godwin recently toured all of the area playgrounds.

“We are doing everything we can to make all our of city playgrounds safe,” Ferguson said. “I have recently toured our local playgrounds with our city parks director. We met with several citizens who were at the parks or lived near the parks. Some of them did express concerns about safety. We are looking into increasing lighting in some of the parks. The East River Playground itself is closed at 9 p.m. and no one should be on the property after then. For the moment, we are asking the city police to increase their patrols in the area, especially after dark. We are doing everything we can to make the playgrounds safe.”

Blaine Braithwaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, said the area used to have a fairly active neighborhood watch group.

“We had one several years ago, but there is no active association,” Braithwaite said. “There was no police support for it, and the lack of police support led to the lack of involvement from the community. It’s tough to do anything when the local government won’t support you other than by giving you lip service. The neighborhood association also had an agreement with the city up until the summer of 2008 to maintain the playground there. I’ve been called down there to break up fights because people called the police and no one ever came. If we don’t have police support, why should citizens risk their lives to enforce the peace?”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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