Wichita police emphasize need for youth outreach in community after deadly shooting at mall

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – Friday’s deadly shooting at Wichita’s Towne East Square mall brings attention to a need emphasized by Wichita police and other community leaders. Friday, a 16-year-old shot and killed 14-year-old Trenj’vious Hutton inside Wichita’s east side mall. Monday, Eyewitness News spoke with Wichita police about their work to reach out to youths in the community and what they say needs to happen to make a difference.

The Wichita Police Department’s Juvenile Intervention Unit was formed in 2020 following an uptick in juvenile crime. The unit said this isn’t the kind of work its officers can do on their own. They say it takes simple steps to intervene before the need of incarceration.

“We know that we can’t reach everyone here, but if we can gather more people together, doing the same thing,” Wichita Police Juvenile Intervention Officer Alex Avendano said.

Community is the message from Wichita police following the events Friday at Towne East mall where a fight between several teens ended with a 16-year-old pulling out a gun and killing 14-year-old Hutton.

“Some of those kids we knew and it’s just ones that we hadn’t been able to really reach to,” Avendano said.

Avendano spends his days mentoring kids and reaching out to their families and helping to connect them with resources and groups in the community to make a difference. He said it’s all about “the village’ mentality.

“There’s another saying that says, ‘a child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down,’ and that’s something we need to think about,” he said.

Avendano said education and employments are the two main avenues for success but after incidents of youth violence, he said he often hears the question from people about what they can do. His advice is to be part of your neighborhood.

“…Kid that’s walking around that maybe [doesn’t] have anything to do, even if you just give advice, it doesn’t take somebody being part of an organization or being a professional to give good advice,” Avendano said.

He said it’s people like that (not a professional or associated with an organization) that made a difference in his life.

“Really, that’s all I’m trying to do is to do what was done for me and do it for kids and try to change their life like my life was changed,” Avendano said.

He said parents too are part of the equation.

“Be noisy. Get involved in everything they’re looking at on social media, what kind of music they’re listening to and being able to give advice,” Avendano said.

Community members are organizing a meeting later this week to work toward solutions. They want to prevent more area youths from dying in situations that are preventable. Their hope is to be more proactive than reactionary.

Organizers Jennifer Pillich and Alton Guidry said they want to find ways to curb some of the violence that’s impacting the lives of children and teens. They’re bringing together three groups and resources including police, the NAACP and educators. They want to look at things like help with jobs, mentorship, education and activities.

Pillich works as a teacher and said it’s important that different parts of the community come together to take this on. Guidry said it’s also important for businesses to invest in kids. The call-to-action town hall is set for 5:30 pm Thursday, at the Downtown Wichita Library.

Avendano said police also need gun owners in the city to properly secure their firearms, making sure they don’t fall into the hands of juveniles. Wichita police report 95 guns have been reported from cars so far in 2022. This time last year, that number was 57.

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