Community leaders, city officials and law enforcement met in Springfield Thursday to discuss the continued uptick in gun violence and ways to try to curb it.
One idea put forward is a program where youth belonging to a community organization can access services at others across the city.
Wesley Jackson is the executive director of the South End Community Center. He said he will be teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.
"What we're trying to do is just get out of our silos and work together and come up with this universal membership where youth can go anywhere — no matter what their neighborhood is or what their background is — and be able to utilize our community based organizations to get the services and programs they may need to keep them off the street, keep them safe," he said.
There have been more than 20 homicides in Springfield so far this year, including the death of a child on Thursday who succumbed to her injuries after being shot earlier in the week. The Hampden County District Attorney's Office and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno confirmed the death.
"As a father of two daughters, there are no words to express my feelings about this tragic loss of life. A brave and bright angel, 10-year-old Aubrianna Lynn, has been taken away all too soon from her family," he said in a statement. "Let her legacy be a clarion call to all of us to redouble our efforts in her memory to do everything we can to end these senseless acts of violence."
The child's grandmother, Kim Fairbanks, also died in the shooting. The suspected shooter was Fairbanks' neighbor. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police.
Sarno had convened the community meeting before the confirmation of the child's death. Earlier this week he said he's received a pledge from Massachusetts public safety officials for more assistance from the state police in dealing with gun violence.
Sarno admits it's been a tough year for the city, but said he objects to the notion that the neighborhoods where some of the incidents have taken place are "bad."
"Have we had a tough couple of weeks? Has it been a challenging summer with this national epidemic of gun violence? Yes, it has been in the city of Springfield and many other places, but we're not raising the surrender flag here," he said.
Sarno said community leaders like Jackson and others are working to prevent violence before it even begins by providing safe spaces for the city's youth to play, learn and grow.
"We have many, many good things going on in the city. And it does peeve me when people say, 'well, it's the neighborhood.' These are good neighborhoods with some bad apples that are in those neighborhoods, some that don't even live in those neighborhoods," he said.
Several Springfield police officers joined community stakeholders, city officials and others at the meeting.
Springfield Police Deputy Chief Lawrence Akers said he was born and raised in the city and some of the organizations at the meeting saved his life when he was a teen.
"I wasn't born a police officer, and I got into my share of troubles, too. And just hearing a lot of the people from these agencies kind of gave me goosebumps because I was given a second chance by some of these agencies that may have been in existence back then, but may be called something different now," he said. "We [are here] to help our youth because we absolutely need to give them a second chance."
Akers said there has to be a targeted approach that allows law enforcement and community organizations to interact with young people before they are in trouble.
"We have to get out and reach them first, before they get to the police... I'd like for them to come to me and ask me what it's like to be a police officer and saying they want to be a police officer, not yelling and screaming at me because I have to arrest them for doing something," he said.
The group has also created a community resource guide highlighting organizations that provide services ranging from mental health to free food and activities for kids after school and on weekends.
"The resource guide will go out. It'll be on our website and we're going to continue to expand it and then we're going to continue to get it out there to various organizations and nonprofits," Sarno said.
This story was a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media.
Reporting from the Associated Press was included in this story.