"We're taking our neighborhood back," the Rev. Claude Harris of New Life Worship Center told a crowd of about 60 people in the subdivision, where two teens have died in the past month. "I'm sick and tired of elderly people afraid to come on their porch. I look around, I don't see the girls playing hopscotch and jumping double Dutch in the yard. It's time now to get them back where they feel comfortable in the front yard and not hiding in the back."
The Jan. 26 death of Brandon Desean Taylor, a sophomore at Butler High School, was linked to gang activity, according to Richmond County authorities. Hephzibah residents Brandon Ira Le'Keith Helm, 18, of Warwick Place, and Darian Deandre Postell, 19, of Thames Place, are each charged with murder.
Sixteen-year-old Tykiah Palmer, who was pregnant, was shot to death Feb. 17 during an argument with a friend of her brother. Loviet Nushawn Edwards, 15, is charged with two counts of murder.
Families gathered Saturday at a Stop the Violence rally not only to console one another but also to search for an answer to the problem.
Neighbors joined hands in prayer, asking God for help to bring safety back to their community.
"They say we have a lost generation," said Augusta Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason. "That's just something I don't believe."
Harris has been working with gangs in his church and said he has found the solution.
"We found there is one thing these young men need," he said, "and that's family."
After working with the boys, he saw four gangs join to play basketball. After that, he saw no violence for three months.
Bernard Harper, a former Augusta commissioner, said the answer lies in community centers, which would give the children something to do besides congregate in the streets.
Alecia Reed, who has lived in Pepperidge for nine years and reared six children there, said the violence isn't going to scare her out of her home.
"I want to stay here and see this through," she said. "I'm volunteering to do anything I can."