The slayings of two teenagers in West Ashley should be a "call to action" on gun violence, Charleston officials said Wednesday in announcing a 17-year-old's arrest in one of the deaths.
Talekuz Williams, 15, and Juquel Young, 17, were shot as they and other youngsters hung out about 9 p.m. Sunday near the basketball courts of Ashley Oaks Apartments.
With a killer on the loose and the neighborhood at 78 Ashley Hall Plantation Road on edge, police had boosted patrols in the area near Ashley River Road and Interstate 526.
But Police Chief Luther Reynolds said Wednesday afternoon that authorities had jailed Zamere Raeguel Brown in Williams' slaying. Brown, of McLernon Terrace on Johns Island, was arrested Wednesday morning at his attorney's office on charges of murder and possession of a firearm in a violent crime, Reynolds said.
Investigators were still trying to account for Young's death, but the police chief said they had caught "the primary person responsible."
An argument had sparked the gunfire, Reynolds added, but the exact nature of their quarrel was not clear.
"It wasn’t about anything worth losing your life over," Reynolds said. "We gather here today ... to say this is not an acceptable outcome. ... This needs to be a call to action. ... It's a big deal."
Many in attendance at Wednesday's announcement spoke about the need to stem the tide of violence and to work within the community to set youth on the right path.
Monica Jefferson — who has worked as an advocate against gun violence after her son, Malcolm, was killed in a 2013 shooting — said she has been in contact with Williams' mother every day since the shooting.
"This family is so broken," Jefferson said. "It's unbelievable. I can't even begin to tell you everything that they go through. ... It has destroyed this family. It has totally broken them. This is this woman's second child that she's lost to gun violence."
The chief said Brown had been arrested on two gun charges in May and was free on bail at the time of Sunday's shooting. Court records also showed an arrest last month on a charge of breaking into a car.
A 9 mm, semi-automatic handgun found at the scene was reported stolen on June 5 from an unlocked vehicle at the apartment complex, Reynolds said.
In 2017, a total of 157 handguns were stolen from unlocked vehicles within Charleston police jurisdiction, the chief said. So far this year, 71 handguns have been stolen from unlocked vehicles.
James Johnson, state president of the National Action Network, said the teens had been playing dice before the dispute that led to the shooting. Many of them, he said, had guns.
"That is a recipe to die," he said.
Police officials were joined during the announcement by Mayor John Tecklenburg and local community advocates.
Tecklenburg spoke about the need to change laws, such as closing the so-called Charleston Loophole, and to stiffen penalties for those who repeatedly violate firearms laws.
But the most important factor is changing the culture surrounding guns, the mayor said.
"We need to interrupt the transmission of violence," Tecklenburg said. "Violence begets violence."
The mayor reflected on the number of guns stolen out of unlocked vehicles and pleaded with gun owners to property store their firearms, locked away in a safe place.
"We need to change community norms," Tecklenburg said. "It’s not cool to carry a gun and commit violence. ... Life is dear. Life is not cheap in Charleston and we need to make sure we have that mindset and that culture."
For Jefferson, gun violence is a pervasive disease.
"People don't understand that gun violence around here is ... almost like Ebola," she said. "I don't know what we have to do to come out and make these kids understand how pulling these triggers; it devastates not only that mother, that father, that sister, brother, it devastates the community as a whole."
Jefferson said she tries to reach out to all mothers who've lost a child to gun violence in an effort to make youth realize the damage guns cause.
"No teenager has any call with a gun," she said. "They don't know what that means, what damage it causes to have that gun in their hands. It's been almost five years for my son and each and every time I hear about a mother losing their child, I relive that moment all over again."