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Knoxville community leaders work to combat gun violence after city ties 2020 record for shooting deaths

A total of 33 people have died to shootings, tying the record seen in 2020 with months still remaining in the year. Leaders are agonizing over the rash of violence.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville Police said Friday that a 17-year-old boy died from a gunshot wound he suffered earlier this month in South Knoxville. 

The teen, whose name hasn't been released, spent the last couple of weeks in the hospital. The suspect, another 17-year-old male, turned himself in and was taken into custody for aggravated assault and for being in possession of a handgun.

WBIR talked to a woman who said the boy lived with her before his death. She called the shooting a tragic accident, saying the victim and his friend found a gun. It fired — hitting the victim.

Police say the 17-year-old died this week after being shot on Sept. 8 in South Knoxville. That brings the year's total number of gun-related deaths to 33. It is now tied for last year's record.

Former State Representative Rick Staples, an advocate for groups including 100 Black Men of Knoxville, said it's going to take more than words to stop the violence.

"Knoxville may be divided by word, but we're one big community. Every time we lose a child, Knox County loses a child," he said. "Come together and figure out how we can solve it beyond speeches and put action steps in place that have financial support, long-term.”

He advocated for leaders to give financial support toward local organizations that work with our youth. He said organizations like the Emerald Youth Foundation have over 30 years of experience helping young people but continue struggling to make ends meet. 

Emerald Youth Foundation has been a spot in Lonsdale where people could find help and they have spent years supporting the community's youth.

It's a place where Nathan Harvey said he wished he had growing up. He is now the facilities coordinator for the organization.

"It's touching a lot of young people in our city. Our goal is really to create promising godly leaders for our city," he said.

"I got into a lot of trouble as a youth. In and out of juvenile up until I turned 18. When I turned age 18, I went to prison,” Harvey said.

At 11 years old, his step-father and role model took his own life. He found comfort in a gang for providing close connections, similar to those of a family. He said he sold drugs through the gang and eventually spent 8 years in prison for it.

"If I look back at my upbringing and asked myself what would've helped me not get in a lot of trouble, the answer would probably be if I had a place like Emerald Youth to come to," Harvey said.

Now, he’s an advocate who is sharing his testimony in hopes of influencing young people tempted by violence, showing them that they can choose a different path.