As the family of 14-year-old Ashante Mayfield prepared to bury her Saturday, the police detective who investigated her murder was home, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. It had been a hard week.
On successive days, Ashante and William Adams, 15, had been shot and killed. They were the fourth and fifth homicide victims younger than 18 in Charlotte this year – after only four all of last year.
Detective Gary McFadden is something of an activist, too, among those shocked last week by the killings and the ages of the victims. McFadden speaks frequently to community groups about youth violence. He's been to countless candlelight vigils and community rallies, and he doesn't doubt the sincerity of the people who organize them.
But McFadden wonders if people understand that the commitment to keeping young people safe is a full-time rather than part-time occupation.
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“You can light all the candles and attend all the vigils you want. If you think that's going to stop the violence, it's not,” McFadden said. “After, we go to our safe homes, our safe havens, but are we doing enough by having the rallies and handing out the hot dogs?
“I don't know. We blame everybody. We blame each other. We blame the schools. We blame the police. But it is our fault. It's everybody's fault.”
Other activists echoed his sentiment Saturday, saying it's up to parents to protect their children and keep them from hurting others.
Of course, that's easier said than done. Parents have a hard enough time screening what their children are exposed to in the home, much less outside it, said Judy Williams, the co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, a 15-year-old Charlotte support group.
“It's really going to be up to parents to say, ‘Not in my home,' ” Williams said. “Parents have got to be the guardians of kids' minds …
“What is happening here? Something is definitely wrong here, and if we don't find a way to fix it, we're going to keep burying our babies.”
Ashante was shot Wednesday as she got out of a car off Beatties Ford Road. A 19-year-old woman later turned herself in to police, and witnesses said the two had been arguing over Ashante's refusal to house-sit a mutual friend's home.
William died Thursday at a park a few miles away. Witnesses said he had argued with a man who shot him once in the chest. Reginald Johnson, 22, has been charged with murder.
Dozens gathered Saturday at a north Charlotte funeral home on Statesville Avenue for Ashante's wake. Family members barred an Observer reporter from the service.
National figures show that the number of teen homicide victims has dropped after peaking in the early-to mid-1990s. While this year's total in Charlotte surpasses last year's, it's still lower than the 2006 total of nine.
What bothers Andrea Long most is the silence that protects criminals. Long's 17- and 18-year-old sons were shot dead June 30 – police say by a 17-year-old who had feuded with her sons over a girl.
“It's gotten ridiculous that we will not tell people about these murderers and rapists running around because we're afraid of being labeled snitches,” Long said. “So what? So what? Our kids are dying, and sometimes we know it's going to happen before it happens.
“No one is going to save us but us.”