Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
A week after the horrific shooting of an innocent jogger in Duncan, Oklahomans find themselves asking questions within their own communities.
"This crime cries out for understanding the motivation of the perpetrators, and for a life-changing response, said Father Joe H. Arledge of St. Peter's Catholic Church of Woodward. "
The crime has so moved Arledge, it is has been a catalyst to help him form his Sunday message.
"I remember the phrase while growing up which was instilled into me by my mother: "All that it takes for evil to happen in the world is for good people to stand by and do absolutely nothing. If we want change, then we must teach by using words, and teach by example, that is, a "pay it forward" approach" he said.
The killing of Australian college student Christopher Lane shocked the nation when one of the boys allegedly told a law enforcement officer, when he was arrested, that the three decided to kill Lane because they "were bored."
At present, all three teens, Chancey Allen Luna, 16, James Edwards, 15, and Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, are in custody at the Stephens County Jail.
While Duncan may seem to be far away, the crime is a wake-up call, said Woodward City Manager Alan Riffel.
He said it should remind us of the need for a cooperative approach in this community that involves parents, churches and governmental officers to keep Northwest Oklahoma youth on the right track.
"Obviously it is a tragic situation and makes everyone look and try to see what is behind doing something so evil, Riffle said. "But every community faces the risks of evil entering into their community and what we should be focusing on is providing as many positive reinforcements to our kids as we can."
According to the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, from 2007 to 2010, violent crime committed by youthful offenders has actually been going down in the state.
Violent crime overall in the state is also expected to be lower in 2013 than it was in 2010, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation statistics.
So why does that still leave everyone feeling more and more out of control?And what about the recent heavy media coverage that seems to point to more youthful offenders, not to mention the many youthful victims of late.
Woodward First Assembly of God Outreach Pastor, Donnetta Hunter believes these are the direct consequences of kicking God out of the schools and our families.
"We as Americans allowed that to happen," she said. "We allowed God out of the school system and we do not have His presence and now we are seeing all this crazy stuff happening in our schools."
Hunter points to the loss of family time and a parent who is at home when children return from school as much of the problem.
While she understands how hard it is for many to make a living, Hunter still stresses the importance of the future generation and their need for a central family in their lives.
Hunter said that she has been pleased by how much Woodward citizens have come forward to help financially support events for youth and she is also impressed by the emerging activities, such as miniature golf and the Crystal Beach Park becoming more and more available to youth here.
"There is also something that is happening in Woodward, that I think is really good," she said. "Recently, we had a meeting at the vo-tech (High Plains Technology Center) and we had people from all different walks of life and we just talked openly about what is wrong with Woodward and what is right with Woodward."
The challenge of providing plentiful youth activity was central to much of the discussion, she said.
For several years now there have been many churches Hunter said, that have created programs that offer a little more structure to teens in their free time.
"Woodward has a lot of great things like Kids Inc., and Back to School Bash and Fifth Quarters," she said.
The Fifth Quarters are after-game parties during football season put on by local churches for high school and middle school-age students.
There are other contributing factors area youth believe are key in whether or not a youth chooses to do good or bad and some of that is good ol' home teaching, said 15-year-old Cassidy Fisher of Mooreland High School.
Fisher believes there are plenty of organized sports available already if you simply choose to do them. But Fisher believes there are two categories of activities where youth are concerned. One happens within a structured setting, such as a church or school or sporting event and the other is when kids just have free time.
It is during this free time, when goals and inner security make a difference, she said.
"I think it is kids that don't have anything to do in life," Fisher said. "If you like basketball or sports then you have that to do instead of going out and killing someone."
Fisher noted that the impact of pop culture cannot be ignored.
"You know, like that guy 2 Chainz got arrested in Oklahoma City and everyone thinks he is so cool," she said of the recent arrest of the well known Atlanta based rapper.
But Fisher still links most decisions youths make regarding doing good or doing bad are impacted by those at home.
Even at her young age, Fisher seems to understand her mother's limits she places on where she goes and who goes with.
"My mom gives me a lot of attention," Fisher said. "She would do anything for me."
As oversimplified as that sounds, family involvement is key, said The Reverend David Burris, district superintendent of the Methodist Church.
"Family relationships have broken down in our society," Burris said. "Young kids need to have a family and if they don't have a family, they will find somewhere to belong and sometimes that place to belong is a gang."
Burris said families need to have daily communication and parents need to be aware of who their kids are hanging out with.
"Families need to be talking to their children and seeing who is influencing them and then make decisions about whether or not those associations continue," Burris said. "Because you don't know if those people may be leading them down the same path as those boys in Duncan."
CNHI contributed to this story.