Addressing the Highland Park Incident

Good afternoon, all.  As many of you know, we had a firearm discharge incident last week in one of our local neighborhood parks.  As you may also know, the perpetrator was in custody roughly 8 hours after the incident was reported.

Here are some facts related to this incident:  This is an isolated incident.  We are not in the midst of a wave of violence in our township.  Some youths had a “beef” that stemmed from a prior incident.  They agreed to meet to resolve that “beef” and, unfortunately, chose a neighborhood park in which to do this.  They went there intending to fight and did so.  When things got out of hand, a 16-year-old decided it was necessary to fire a handgun.  This handgun is believed to have been stolen from inside of a car in New Cumberland Borough.  The youth involved as actors, victims, and witnesses, ranged in ages from 16 to 18 years of age and were from Lower Allen and New Cumberland. 

What can you do to prevent this?  Honestly, very little.  It was a single act resulting from a perceived slight, that escalated into violence and a shot being fired.  But there are, indeed, some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of it happening in the future, here or elsewhere:

You can, if you are a gun owner, ensure that you do not leave your firearms in your vehicle, unsecured, particularly if your vehicle is left unlocked.  In fact, locking your vehicles and not leaving valuables in them is generally a good idea, as we have many car entries involving theft of items from vehicles that are left unsecure.  Properly securing firearms in your home is also a wise course.

You can, as a parent, know where your kids are and what they are doing.  Speak to them about staying away from violence, loitering into the late hours, and all manner of expected parental behaviors designed to steer your kids down the right path.  Stay involved.  Have consequences for deviation from your expectations.  Be a parent first, friend second.

Similarly, talk to your kids about what to do if things don’t seem right:  See something, say something.  If it looks like a group is gathering to fight or a fight breaks out, get away.  Tell someone.  Call us.  Adults, do the same. 

Are our parks safe?  Generally, yes.  However, I would encourage parents of young children to accompany them and would have said the same before this incident.  Abductions, assaults, and worse are always possibilities.  It is naïve to say, “not in my neighborhood”.   It can happen in any neighborhood.  Keep an eye on your kids.  We’ve been fortunate to have only had two reported acts of violence in that park in the last decade.  There have been a handful of drug issues and vandalism cases over that time period, but the majority of incidents we’ve had to deal with are folks present shortly after closing and occasional loud, profane, basketball games. 

We can push back, together.  It starts with personal responsibility and continues with not turning a blind eye toward suspicious or violent behaviors that you may see.  If your children are struggling with dealing with this, talk to someone…school counselors and licensed therapists would be the first line, but you can also talk to us if you need to. 

Be safe, and be well,