STEUBENVILLE - Michael Thomas has had enough.
The Jefferson Behavioral Health System case manager is hoping the recent murder of his 17-year-old son may be the spark for Steubenville residents to unite to stop violence in the community.
Thomas was in bed the evening of July 25 when he received a call from his neighbors about ambulances in the alley near his home.
PLANNING A RALLY — Michael Thomas discussed a rally scheduled for Saturday at Murphy Park in Steubenville to stop violence in the community. Thomas’ son, Demitrius Thomas, was stabbed to death last month in a Pleasant Heights alley. He is the fifth murder victim in Steubenville this year. -- Dave Gossett
"I walked outside and my neighbors told me there might be a teenager's body on the ground. Then a short time later a police officer told me the victim might be my son. I was in denial. I was immediately nauseated and had chest pains. When they told me it was my son, Demitrius, and he had been stabbed, I was angry as hell. I told them it can't be him because Demitrius was spending the night with a friend. Then I was sent to the hospital because I was going into shock," Thomas related.
It was the fifth homicide in the city this year.
But instead of sinking into his personal grief Thomas said he refused to wither away.
"My son always knew me as a fighter for people. And I know he is looking down today and he is proud of me because I am saying enough is enough. We cannot continue allowing our young people to die like this. We have to stop the violence," stated Thomas.
The suspect in the stabbing murder surrendered at the police station hours after the incident.
After his son's funeral Thomas was encouraged by friends and neighbors to organize the United Neighbors Ignites Teens with Education and Drug Awareness by Fostering Education, Respect and Openness with Never Ending Truths, or U.N.I.T.E.D. F.R.O.N.T.
The organization has announced a community cookout from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday at Murphy Park in Steubenville's Pleasant Heights neighborhood.
"We sat down and started talking about a name for the group. We decided we didn't want to come in the back door to talk about this. We are going to come in the front door. We need to unite as a community to stop the violence and killing of our young people. God was in all of our planning," commented Thomas.
"It is our duty as parents and a community to train our children in the most effective manner. We can do that by giving the children all the opportunities and tools they will need to be successful adults. We need to come together and take back our community and our children. We will do this with love, discipline and encouragement by teaching our children how to love and respect themselves and others," Thomas explained.
"I want to allow the kids to speak and to help change our city. We need to help our kids and hold parents accountable. We also need to find out what our kids are doing and saying on social media. And we need to let the kids of our community know we are listening and we care," the Jefferson Behavioral Health System case manager remarked.
"We can no longer be on the back burner and watch what happens to our kids. The first child who was killed should have been a wake-up call. We need to listen to what the kids are saying and be consistent with our support. I believe a lot of kids in our community are scared and want to be saved," Thomas said.
"I am very hopeful we will see a large number of our youth at the cookout along with city officials, church pastors and community leaders. Many of our kids have too much time on their hands. We need a place in the inner city where the kids can go for fun and also be educated. We don't need our kids standing on the corner looking to buy dope. No other kid should have to die. They should be thriving and preparing to be young adults. We must stop the violence now," Thomas said.
"Our group cannot stop the violence by ourselves. There is power in numbers and we are encouraging the community to support our mission with prayer, love, donations and time. We have to quit killing each other. Our forefathers fought too hard for their freedom for our kids to hate each other. Is this the way we respect our older generations who fought for the rights we have today? As an African-American I don't find it important to kill another person like me for being disrespected. It needs to stop," said Thomas.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla is one of the main supporters of the U.N.I.T.E.D. F.R.O.N.T.
"We have to reach the young children and show them there is a better way. Five young people have been killed in the city this year. I am encouraged because I am hearing from people who want to stop the violence. We are taking action against the violence and I hope and pray we are successful," Abdalla said.
According to Delores Wiggins of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus, "the black-on-black violence has to stop. We need to do everything we can to stop the violence and save our children. Five homicides this year are five too many."
"My son would have been a junior at Big Red this year. He spent a lot of time with other kids talking about respect for others. He was a bright kid and I truly miss him. I miss hearing his voice. I am so grateful for the love and support from the community and I feel the need to do what I can to stop this senseless violence," Thomas stated.
And Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci said he is pleased to see the community come together.
"We have to understand what is on the minds of our youth to allow us to show support for the youth of our community," Mucci said.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)