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Newport News mayor sees mental health as part of solution to school gun violence

"It's a community problem and it's going to take the community to solve it," said Newport News Mayor McKinley Price on gun violence in the city and its schools.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — 13News Now spoke one-on-one with Newport News Mayor McKinley Price, days after the shooting at Heritage High School. Two teenage students are currently recovering from gunshot wounds after a 15-year-old fellow student shot them inside the school.

Price said he got several calls while he was working during a surgical procedure at his dental practice.

"I realized if I was getting that many calls, something bad is happening. So, I stepped out of surgery," said Price. "It's one of the mayor's worst nightmares is getting a call that there's an active shooter in one of our schools." 

Price said his heart sank when he learned what happened, and feels devastated for the victims, the 15-year-old accused in the shooting, and all of their families. He said in wake of this situation, he wants to see change moving forward with the younger community.

Hampton Roads is seeing a rise in gun violence among younger people. It's something Price says he is seeing in his own city. He said he wants to see more School Resource Officers in the halls of the school divisions, but understands that goal comes with a lot of planning with academic leaders.

"There's just too many guns," Mayor Price sighed. "It's too easy to get access to guns in our community."

Price said thoughts and prayers aren't going to be enough to change this problem and instead he wants to start helping students with their mental health.

"It's something that will occur if things stay the way they are. We've got to get our community involved, we've got to get our kids to talk, we've got to get more access to counselors," he said as he stood outside of his dental office.

Price said he wants schools to create better programs for students to use during and after school. He plans to work with school division leaders to see if there are activities in which both students and the community can get involved to create some sort of peer program or mentorship.

The mayor said by starting at the source of student mental health, schools and communities can help prevent more violent incidents like the one at Heritage High School.

"I think we have probably failed this young man in some way that we didn't reach out to him, or we didn't have the opportunity for him to express the problems he was having," said Price. "We didn't show him alternate ways to solving problems."

Mayor Price said it's not just up to city leaders and schools to help lower the violence. He wants parents to get more involved in their children's lives and have that open conversation with them if they notice something is wrong.