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Nov 1, 2011

Survivor of street shooting speaks

Justin Stephens

With that horrible ranking, fear of crime and violence has become a real personal problem. Urban violence is quickly spreading to rural communities; citizens’ personal security is under constant threat. In the City, organized crime linked to drugs and gangs have taken over entire neighborhoods, putting youths at risk. Today we re-visit Justin Stephens; he is the young man from a crime infested area who was shot in the head back in September. By a stroke of good fortune he has survived the incident. News Five’s Isani Cayetano sat down with him for an up close and personal interview.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The phenomenon of crime and violence is one which has braced the streets of the Old Capital in a virtual stranglehold since the turn of the century.  Despite all major efforts to curb gang-related crimes incidences of cause and effect have only ballooned over the years, injuring many and claiming the lives of hundreds.  A recent attempt at armistice between various Belize City gangs has seen a reduction in the spate of homicides since a ceasefire was brokered by government officials in early September.

The truce, for whatever reason, did not include all rival factions and while George Street, Kraal Road and their affiliates struggle to keep the peace an all out war was being waged on the other side of the river.  Sixteen year old Justin Stephens is a survivor of the carnage that has rapt Kelly and Victoria streets of late. On September twenty-seventh he was shot multiple times and left for dead while riding his bicycle along Freetown Road.  One of three bullets which found its mark in the left side of his head has severely altered his constitution.

Justin Stephens, Shooting Victim

“Right now I cyant ‘memba none ah dehn thing right now cause right now I feel bad right now.  Right now I gah wah surgery fi go eena right now again fi my head.  Afta that I noh know weh I wah do so I cyant say if I gwein go do something or if I noh gwein do nothing. I really cyant say nothing ‘bout that.”

Justin doesn’t remember much of what happened that Tuesday afternoon.  He believes that he was simply hit by a moving vehicle.  His chances of making it through the ordeal were very slim but somehow he stayed alive.

Erlinda Bodden

Fragments of his skull have been surgically implanted into his stomach and will be grafted back in place during his next surgery.

Erlinda Bodden, Grandmother of Justin Stephens

His physical condition is not well up to now because sometimes he talks good and sometimes like he go from ih head and I have to do everything fi ahn, bathe ahn, give ahn ih medication.  I haffi give ahn ih food and soh.  Soh ih noh fully recover yet.”

For this minor the path to recovery is slow and lonely.  In the wake of the incident his gait is tottering.  With each step Justin struggles for balance.  For the better part of the day he is relegated to a sofa in his living room, away from the community basketball court where he spent most of his days.

Justin Stephens

“Round ya everybody mi cool round ya eena wah way but I noh really stay round like that I usually, I usually stay with my granny and she mind me and thing when I deh home but other than that if stay ya dah noh ya, dah out deh pan di court.”

Isani Cayetano

“So you’re a fan of basketball?  [Do] you play well? [Do] you play good ball?”

Justin Stephens

“I play basketball right out deh pan di court yeah, me and my friend dehn.”

Sadly, most of them were only fair-weather friends.  Since the shooting only a few have remained loyal to him.  Justin Stephens, recognized for his will to live as evidenced in this clip of him attempting to get up after being shot in the head, is one of a growing number of teenagers who are either prey or predators in ongoing gang rivalries.  Undoubtedly, his ordeal has dramatically changed the lives of those around him.

Marie Torres, Aunt of Justin Stephens

Marie Torres

“It changed a lot because we neva expect that ih mih wah happen to he like that.  None ah the family like fu sih di idea how ih di suffer right now and going to school and everything and it really keep him back a lot.”

Stephens was the intended target of a pair of killers who have since been identified as twenty-one year old Michael Gladden and twenty-eight year old Mark Gentle.

Isani Cayetano

“What is it like for you as a sixteen year old living in this neighborhood?”

Justin Stephens

“Well eena wah way ih mih kinda nice because right out deh I could go play ball I could go da shop.  I could go buy food fi eat, go dah my peoples dehn house, go dah my granny dehn house or stay with my pickney dehn.  Other than that everything mi kinda good eena wah way too fi a while.”

…until they started shooting.  Prior to this nightmare the dispute between the two gangs left nine year old Joshua Abraham dead, another victim of circumstance.  While Justin, on the other hand, is lucky to be alive he will no longer be the same.  He has lost weight considerably and complete recovery for him is a far cry.

Isani Cayetano

“What do you intend to do with your life?”

Justin Stephens

“Go back da school [and] if anything go back pan da court out deh [and] play ball but other than that I rather work, try geh wah job fi sih di best ah my life and help my peoples dehn same way too.”

Justin’s story is a lesson to his peers enamored of street life.  Many have gone before him and inevitably many will succeed him but his is one of change, the only constant in what has become an all too common reality. Reporting for News Five, Isani Cayetano.

From our statistics, at least eleven minors have been murdered since the beginning of the year.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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