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School shooting adds urgency as Wu seeks to curb summer violence

Boston officials are hoping to prevent violence this summer by connecting at-risk youths and their families to programs and social services.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Appearing somber but determined, over a dozen city employees, public safety officials, clergy, and community workers gathered Wednesday to present Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan to prevent violence this summer by connecting at-risk youths and their families to programs and social services.

Wu’s announcement comes just one day after an 18-year old gunman killed 19 fourth-graders in Uvalde, Texas, the nation’s deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre nearly a decade ago, and the city officials who spoke said their hearts were heavy.

“It is very, very difficult to be standing here less than 24 hours after a gunman walked into an elementary school and took the lives of so many,” Wu said at the news conference at the Tobin Community Center in Roxbury. “While this didn’t take place in Boston, too many in our communities live with the fear and threat of violence in their neighborhoods. As a mom to two boys, as a neighbor ... we will move with urgency to make sure that our communities are safe.”

Wu plans to take a “wraparound approach” to reaching youths, uniting staff from over eight city departments to provide job opportunities, training, and summer programs for children and young adults. Community centers will be open later, and in addition to increasing patrols in public areas, police will be partnering with clergy, social workers, and outreach coordinators to help children access social, professional, and mental health services.

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Last week, two students were arrested after bringing loaded guns to Charlestown High School, and in March a teacher and student were shot in the parking lot of TechBoston Academy after school. A series of attacks on residents in the downtown area by young people earlier this month also drew attention to the need for increased outreach to at-risk youths.

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After expanding the number of job opportunities available through the city for Boston youth aged 14 to 18 to 6,000 positions, Wu said the city has already received over 3,500 applications.

“We’re working with over 200 nonprofit partners to fill every spot we have,” she said, because “when we invest in our young people, everyone in our communities benefits.”

For young adults, the mayor’s office of Public Safety is hiring 20 new Community Ambassadors, focused on supporting residents impacted by gun violence. Boston residents 18 to 30 years old can also apply for paid training or employment through organizations like PowerCorps Boston, an environmental justice and conservation group partnered with the city’s Youth Green Jobs Initiative.

In addition to later hours, neighborhood community centers like the Tobin will offer extended programs for residents of all ages, ranging from glow-in-the-dark dodgeball to bridge tournaments, with a focus on connecting with neighbors and creating safe havens for children outside of work and summer camp.

“As a father of a 10- and 14-year old, this morning’s drive to school was a little bit slower, my embrace was a little bit longer,” city Chief of Human Services José Massó said, in reference to the emotional toll of the Texas shooting. “With that said, I am thankful … that we are opening our spaces for families, for young people, for all residents to be engaged, to be committed, and to reconnect with each other.”

Acting Police Commissioner Gregory Long acknowledged that “historically, summer’s been a challenging time in terms of addressing violence in our city,” citing a cyclical “increase in activity” during the warmer months.

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He said the police department will rely on “intelligence-driven data,” including information collected by the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, to identify the “small group of individuals that are driving violence” and hold them accountable.

Long stressed that reducing and preventing violence would require a collective effort on the part of city and community agencies, applauding the efforts of YouthConnect social workers to “steer children away from violence” and towards social services after their encounters with police.

Though the core of Wu’s safety plan is rooted in prevention, the city is also preparing to respond to trauma and violence through the Boston Public Health Commission. The commission’s Neighborhood Trauma Team Network is partnering with public health organizations, from major hospitals to nonprofits, to help children and adults affected by violence access physical and mental health resources.

“In spite of all of what we’ve talked about, we will experience violence this summer,” said the Rev. Mark Scott, director of the violence prevention for the trauma response team. “Those are the people who will come out in the community, in the aftermath of community violence ... to get people on the road to recovery and healing.”


Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.