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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Anti-violence rally raises awareness of rise in shooting deaths

EAST TAMPA - More than 40 white balloons bearing names of gun violence victims floated into the afternoon sky. It was a day of prayer and also of forgiveness. "I don't have any hatred in my heart," said Deborah Parker. Her son, Coryell Parker, was shot to death in April; his body left on a Nebraska Avenue street corner. No one has been arrested, but Deborah Parker said whoever took her son's life "is somebody's child, too. I forgive whoever done it. I just want them to come forward and say they done it." Parker was among about 50 people who this month attended an annual candlelight vigil in the parking lot of the Lee Davis Neighborhood Center on 22nd Street. Organizer Vivian Heyward said she plans another vigil in December to honor murder victims.
The vigil also was sponsored by the Stop the Gang & Gun Violence Task Force, a coalition of people and civic groups that was formed in response to a recent spate of shooting deaths in East Tampa. Members of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership, the Nation of Islam, Hillsborough County school board member Doretha Edgecomb, Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden, and former Tampa City Council chairman Tom Scott also attended. "We're trying to form a support group for the victims' families so they can have someone to reach out to," said Heyward. More than 200 people met in November to form the task force. Since then, several committees have formed to focus on ways to reach out to at-risk children and teens. Tampa police recently held a gun buy-back program. "I don't know why everyone has to have a gun," she said. For many families, faith has helped them deal with tragedy. Anita Shaw's son, Charon Shaw, 39, was shot and killed last year. "In order for God to get the glory we cannot hate," she said. "If anything, we should feel sorry for the ones who did it." Gloria Shellman's stepson, Michael Watkins, 22, was shot nine times when he stepped outside of a 40th Street nightclub nearly 12 years ago. No one has been arrested. "Somebody had to see something," she said. "He was looking forward to going to college. He was in the wrong place. It was like a dream. I couldn't believe it happened." Mary Ann Reynolds lost her 16-year-old grandson Jamarie Hodges in November. He went to help a friend in a fight and was shot to death. Tampa police recently arrested and charged 19-year-old Jose Guillermo Torres-Melvis with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting. "I may not cry in front of you all, but believe me, my tears come at night," Reynolds said. "Don't have vengeance in your heart. Just keep the faith and we will be able to endure."

ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652
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