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Newport News community gathers for peace rally, searches for gun violence solutions

Community advocates and city leaders met to discussion solutions to gun violence in Hampton Roads. It comes days after a shooting inside Richneck Elementary School.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — On Sunday, Newport News community advocates and city leaders held a rally to discuss ways to end gun violence.

The second annual Not My Child Stop the Violence Peace Rally aimed to find solutions to end gun violence in Hampton Roads.

Panels discussed violent crime prevention, mental health resources and working together as a community. The recent uptick in gun violence is causing heartache and pain for people in the Newport News community.

“I haven’t lost somebody, but my friend has lost somebody very, very close to her. He child has to see her mother cry,"  said one person at the rally.  

People shared their concerns and ideas inside the Restoration Faith and Kingdom Builders Church, where the event was held. 

“Let’s keep this mental health thing going," said Devon Kelley, founder of Not My Child. " Let’s talk about that as well as about solutions for gun violence. So we are on top of the mental health issue."

The peace rally event brought in mental health professionals, community advocates, and city leaders, including Newport Police Chief Steve Drew and Mayor Phillip Jones. They all charged the community to work together.

“The days of thoughts and prayers are pretty much over," said Jones. "I’m honestly getting tired of it. I think at the end of the day it’s going to require a unified effort." 

The rally comes two days after Newport News police say a six-year-old student shot a teacher at Richneck Elementary School.

In a Facebook post, the president of James Madison University identified the teacher as Abby Zwerner, a 25-year-old graduate of the school.  

Drew said he recently visited the teacher and her family, while she recovers in a hospital. 

“I didn’t know I’ll be able to get in and talk with her, but we had a really good conversation. That was a tough day," he said.  

At the rally, Drew said he’s making changes to the police academy to teach officers different strategies to help prevent violent crimes. 

“We’re going to change our philosophy and become more academic based to train officers on a 360 approach. I want a psychology class. I want a sociology class, the study of communities," said Drew. 

Organizers said the event was scheduled before the events at Richneck Elementary, but they believe the situation only heightens the urgency to find solutions. 

Some people in attendance expressed hope that residents will speak up when they witness violence in their communities.

“You can’t change a movement when you’re not being transparent," said one woman. 

In an interview with CNN, Jones said he and other members of city council, school board and the schools superintendent will review the area's security protocols after the police investigation. He said those discussions could include school resources officers, police in schools and metal detectors. 

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