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Newport News students speak with mentor program following deadly shooting of fellow classmate

Newport News Public Schools said it's been working with various programs to get students mentors but recently felt the need was greater with recent violent events.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Newport News Police continue to investigate the recent shooting death of Woodside High School student, 17-year-old Justice Dunham

Around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, Demari Batten, 18, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and firearm on school property. He attended Warwick High School. 

In wake of this incident, Newport News Public Schools leaders stressed the importance of an event they had already scheduled with a program called "My Brother's Keeper."

The school division held it at Heritage High School Thursday afternoon where male students sat with mentors from the program and spoke out about the ongoing concerns they have.

At Newport News Public Schools, Superintendent Dr. George Parker said the recent shooting at the Menchville High School basketball game sparked an overwhelming need for change.

This comes after a separate shooting inside Heritage High School in September when a 15-year-old opened fire and injured two other teens.

Parker told 13News Now he only wants to see his students grow with potential, but sadly, the recent string of gun violence among students is overshadowing that potential.

"We have over the past few years had instances of violence, but I believe this is nothing like we've seen this year," said Parker as he stood in front of Heritage High School, ready to go into the "My Brother's Keeper" presentation. "We cannot change poor decision-making, but we can try to impact decision-making on a day-to-day basis."

Parker said he wants to see change, which starts with connecting students to mentors in the community.

"We need more opportunities for young men to come together and talk about being a teenager in today's time. Not 10 years ago, not 20 years ago. What is it like today for our youth, what they're experiencing and how can we help them?" said Parker, who talked about his personal experience of growing up with a single parent and finding help in a high school coach.

Parker said in order to create change within his students, the community needs to see the potential in the first place, especially during the students' teen years.

"What we pour into them, we benefit from many years to come. So, I think that potential is there and we should never give up on them," Parker expressed. "I think we can all do some very impactful work in our city with young men if we work together."

Dr. Parker said he and his staff are working with Woodside High School, where Justice Dunham attended, to help students with mental resources. He said the school is giving both families of the suspect and the victim out of respect at this time as they deal with the tragedy.

Newport News Public Schools also works with another mentor program called "RISE! Male Empowerment Network" to provide resources to young men.

Dr. Parker said the school is looking into more opportunities to engage students in youth organizations.

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