Police chief in the wake of Cape High grad’s death: The killings have to stop
Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker agrees with the girlfriend of the area’s latest homicide victim: The killings have to stop.
Alonzo L. Stewart Jr., 24, was shot multiple times early Sunday and died near his home in the 2000 block of Braman Avenue, Fort Myers. His niece and nephew were inside along with their father. Just hours later, the children’s grandmother’s house was shot at — where they had sought refuge from the crime scene.
Stewart’s death is the 12th homicide of the year that Fort Myers police are investigating. Many of the shootings have been “black-on-black” crimes, officials said.
Those homicide numbers don’t include shootings where the victim survived – three children younger than 6 have been shot, one who is 2 years old was shot by a 3-year-old who found a gun on the couch, the other two when some men jumped out of a car and opened fire on a house where the children were outside with some adults. Nor does it include Cape Coral Police and Lee County Sheriff’s Office numbers.
Stewart, a 2005 Cape Coral High School graduate, was acquainted with DeJarvis Harris, 19, who was killed in a July 4 shooting that left another person with critical injuries.
“He did know him, but they weren’t like close friends,” said Stewart’s girlfriend, Victoria, whose last name the Cape Coral Breeze is not publishing for her safety. “He did go to his viewing. They grew up in the same neighborhood together.”
Stewart, like Harris and several others who have been slain this year, have previous felony arrests and have been convicted of a wide variety of crimes: Drugs, burglary, battery, grand theft. Many have spent months, if not years, behind bars before they turned 30.
Stewart was released from prison on Dec. 1 after serving time on violation of probation in a violent home-invasion robbery in 2007 in Cape Coral and a drug sting in 2008 in Fort Myers. He saw a teen-aged friend get shot and killed in 2005 because that friend and two girls had been jumped the night before. A fist-fight between rival groups turned deadly when a teenage boy pulled a gun. The shooter, another teen at the time, remains in prison.
Stewart and Harris are just two of several people killed who have drug-related arrests or convictions since the first of the year.
But Victoria and her mother think more can be done by law enforcement to quell the death toll.
“He had a real rough life. He might have sold drugs,” she said trailing off into tears, adding that his past should not have resulted in what happened early Sunday. “He was always smiling. He helps anybody.”
But the killings must stop.
“There’s so many killings going on and the police aren’t trying to find these people,” Victoria said just hours after her boyfriend of six weeks was slain. “There’s been so much black-on black-crime the police don’t solve. “They don’t want to put any effort into investigating the crime. Maybe they think: ‘They are doing (police) a favor by killing each other up.'”
Baker disagrees with any thought that his agency isn’t working to quash the death rate and arrest those responsible.
Detectives need help from the witnesses and people involved with the shooters and the victims. That isn’t happening. People aren’t coming forward and the killings continue.
Anyone who has information on the many unsolved homicides and other shootings have several ways they can report information and remain anonymous. They may qualify for a reward of up to $1,000 through Crime Stoppers.
Stewart, who was a linebacker in high school, had scholarship offers until he got involved “with the wrong people,” Victoria said. Deep down, he cared about people.
But where did things go wrong?
Maybe not having his parents – who are said to have died when he was young — during his most informative years had something to do with it.
Victoria had some other ideas: “I think that the economy is so down they see drugs as a way to get money. They are trying to get their (drug dealers’) money. If it takes killing them, that’s what it takes. Then they retaliate.”
Her mother thinks the system and the community have failed these young people, many of whom are falling to gunmen’s bullets, many others who may be the ones pulling the trigger.
A mistake as a youngster can hamper the person’s job outlook, adding to the anxiety and criminal behavior, her mother said. “Those of us with college degrees are having a difficult time.”
“There are so many young kids out there, they have to pay fines, they’re being labeled, they can’t get a job,” her mother said. “It’s almost forcing them to do what they are doing. No one is saying: ‘Maybe I can help. Maybe there is something I can do to help you.’ They are out there fending for themselves.”
Her mother also thinks society has failed these young men.
“You need to tell me a society as a whole can’t help these kids, maybe steer them in a different direction? Someone, somewhere in our society, needs to ask: ‘Why are you in this situation?’ It’s hard for these kids.”
She thinks some of the young men who have been slain in recent months may have tried to rectify their mistakes in the past, but being saddled with a felony conviction has caused them additional problems.
“I can read in the paper, some kid, with a long criminal history was shot and killed,” she said. “But you’ve got to look beyond that. What got this child there? You cry for that.”
*Baker agrees many of the shootings and killings are retaliatory, but stresses there are systems in place to help children before they grow into adult thugs.
“All we can do is offer them,” Baker says of the programs available through many social service and law enforcement agencies. “The communities, the families involved, have to reach out and take some responsibility.
“No. 1, they (the community) could be a great support mechanism for that child to stay on the right path,” he said adding “This is prevention, prevention, prevention.”
When someone first notices a child traveling down the wrong road that is the time for prevention. Report what the child is doing to a law enforcement officer, tell someone of authority, someone who can help.
Sometimes that child could be arrested for a crime after the person reports issues.
“I would much rather arrest (a person) for illegal possession of a firearm, than work a homicide,” Baker said.
“Another problem we have is people (witnesses) are not willing to participate. Regardless of how it may implicate them … especially when it’s drug related,” he said. But detectives need to know if a witness may have been there for a drug buy that went bad.
“We don’t want our witnesses to be impeached,” he said.
The killings are not as much gang related as they are drug related, Baker said, adding that the county does have some identified gang members.
“The drug business is a violent business,” he said. “That’s just a deadly business.”
Lee County ranks No. 12 in Florida’s 67 counties in sending people to prison, Baker said. The State’s Attorney’s Office is doing its job. But at some point, the recidivism rate has to go down.
“It’s pretty parenthetical,” Baker said. “If (the offender) is not educated, has no support mechanism, they are going to return back to crime.”
That is the reason for one of just many programs in place, one called COPE. Churches, law enforcement and community members are involved in trying to make a difference in the recidivism rate by helping those who have legal issues, to help them get beyond a life of crime.
“The economy is brutal,” Baker said. “We’re seeing that through a lot …. of violent crimes.”
People need to make money somehow and they will survive.
There’s a mentality out there “If they can’t have theirs, they’re going to get yours,” he said, referring to that scenario as a reason some crimes are occurring.
Families need to make the person accountable for the more minor crimes.
“Even if it’s a family member, you have to tell,” Baker stressed. You may end up protecting or saving an individual’s life.”
What made Stewart a target Sunday morning?
The police will have to sort it out, meeting with his associates, talking to friends, the few family members he has in the area, get people – witnesses– to talk.
Victoria doesn’t know for sure why the man who wanted to care for her and her children was slain. All she knows is two days before his death they went to nice restaurant for dinner. “I’ve never been to a restaurant like this before,” she recalls him saying. “I don’t know what to order.”
They had a nice night together, one of the few she allowed because “I spend as much time with my kids as possible.” He cared for her children and told everyone: “I really want to be with her. I want to be in her kids’ lives.”
The day before the killing, they were supposed to see each other, but again, Victoria’s children are her first priority.
Then Saturday came.
” He said that he was going to (a club) with a friend, and he was telling me how he liked hanging around with (that friend),” she said. “He’s not on drama, he’s like me,” she quoted him as saying. “We just chill and have a good time.”
She told him: “Have fun, be careful and call me when you leave the club. He never called me.”