Spurred by the recent burst of gun violence in Fort Wayne that killed five people in a week, more than 300 people turned out for a meeting Friday evening that organizers hope will be a start to ending such bloodshed.
"They say Fort Wayne is a city that saves itself," Urban League President and CEO Jonathan Ray told the standing-room-only crowd. "We have to really do it. It's going to take everyone here."
After beginning the meeting with a moment of silence, Ray explained that the purpose of the gathering was to brainstorm solutions to problems in the community that lead to violence. So far this year, 12 deaths in Fort Wayne have seen been ruled homicides. Two came as a result of shootings by police and one was from injuries suffered in a 1980 shooting.
"We are trying to get your voice heard," Ray told group that met in the league's offices near Hanna Street and East Creighton Avenue. "We are going to galvanize your thoughts, your plans and put them into an action plan."
Those in attendance split into about a half dozen groups, and after appointing a secretary, timekeeper and spokesperson, they began answering questions posed by the organizers such as "What in your community do you want to change?" and "Do we have enough mental health services and where are they?" The groups met later to share their ideas.
Artheria Jones, 64, sat listening on the edge of one group. She told The Journal Gazette that her strong feelings about the recent violence brought her to the meeting.
"It's just senseless," she said. "I just really believe that everyone is concerned and everyone wants it to stop."
Former city firefighter, Richard Ridley, 53, said the violence hit close to home for him. He said he lived two doors from Jacqueline Hardy, a 49-year-old woman pulled off a Citilink bus Wednesday and shot dead by her ex-boyfriend.
"We're fed up," Ridley said. "We want to get together and try to come to some conclusions and try to find some type of resolution to the problem."
Ridley said he had been to similar meetings before, ones where the same people usually attended and where much was said and little action resulted. But Friday he noticed a difference.
"There are a lot of new faces, a lot more younger faces, which I'm glad to see because that's where the problem lies," he said. "We need to get their parents more involved."
Shontel Vignaude, a 36-year-old mother, said part of the solution is ensuring there are enough activities to keep teens out of trouble.
"They start smoking weed, getting high, skipping school, fighting and then they get into guns," she said.
She also urged church officials and their congregations to work to end violence in the city.
"The churches need to come out of the four walls and come to the streets," she said.
As a continuation of Friday's meeting, a second meeting is planned for 6 p.m. April 12 at the Urban League.
"This is not a quick solution," Ray said. "It's going to be a long-term deal."