Mayor Jonathan McCollar commented publicly Wednesday on the death of a 16-year-old boy found with gunshot wounds last weekend at a Statesboro park, calling the family’s loss heartbreaking and referring to the activity of youth gangs in the city.
City Council then specifically empowered the Statesboro Youth Commission to engage in fundraising activities.
“Over the weekend our community has had another tragic loss of life, by a young man that was only 16 years old, within our community, and it is a very heartbreaking issue to know that this is happening. …,” McCollar said.
The mayoral comments and council vote occurred during a 4 p.m. special meeting announced a little over a day earlier for a different purpose. That purpose was a bond sale, taking the form of a loan to the city from a single bank, to reimburse developers in the Old Register Road Tax Allocation District for road construction. The council first approved moving forward with the loan.
But before adjourning the brief meeting, McCollar made his statement about the death of James Mikell Jr., 16.
“I know that no community wants this to happen, but this is something that I feel very heartbroken about the fact that it’s happening to the city that I call home, the city that I’ve grown up in, and we have some issues that we have to address when it comes to the young people within our community,” the mayor continued.
He called for action from “the grassroots level” to “show a lot of kids that we’re losing that there’s an alternative route.”
Refers to gangs
“I believe that our city is too good to have gangs involved in our community and have gangs influencing our young people,” McCollar said. “I know the family is distraught over this. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to them, and there are no words to describe the pain that you hear from a mother who’s lost her child.
“And I think that we need to keep our community in prayer, but I do believe, like the word teaches, that a faith without work is a dead faith, and we really have to get to work within our community,” he concluded.
McCollar then asked council members to authorize the Youth Commission to raise money.
“Mayor, I’ll gladly make the motion, just, my question is, I thought we’d already done that,” District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn said.
Ordinance amendments unanimously approved by the council May 21 granted potential fundraising authority to three commissions that were developed by the mayor and volunteers and adopted by the council last year. The other commissions are assigned to advise the city on workforce development and promote diversity and inclusion.
But as McCollar and City Attorney Cain Smith explained, the ordinances state only that the commissions may, with the approval of mayor and council, raise money for the purposes for which the volunteer panels were created.
“That being said, if we could just do an oral motion, and this would be just for fundraising, not for the expenditure of the funds,” Smith said. “The expenditure of the funds would be a separate motion to allow them to do that, but we could allow them to raise funds if that sort of blanket motion is granted by the mayor and council.”
District 5 Councilman Derek Duke also said, “I’m confused; I thought we’d already done this.”
Council votes 4-0
But Yawn said he understood Smith to mean that Wednesday’s action would be “a further piece to the puzzle” and would trust him that it was needed. Duke seconded Yawn’s motion, which passed 4-0, with District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum not in attendance.
McCollar also urged council members to attend the “Call to Action for our Youth in the City” meeting he has organized for 6 p.m. Friday at Agape Worship Center, 810 West Grady St., in response to the homicide. It is not an official city meeting, but it is open to the public.
The meeting is meant to inform people of steps they can take for keeping their children and the community safe and to generate ideas for putting the Youth Commission to work on longer-term solutions, he said Wednesday.
That gangs are active in Statesboro has been confirmed by law enforcement and school system authorities in relation to several incidents stretching back more than a decade.
But Statesboro police have not said whether gang activity was involved in Mikell’s slaying.
“It is too premature to determine conclusions of gang involvement or any other conclusions that could be reached, due to the investigation being an active and ongoing investigation and due to the fact that we’re still seeking information from the community,” Deputy Chief of Police Rob Bryan said Thursday.
Mikell was pronounced dead at the scene after police responding to a call found him with gunshot wounds at Luetta Moore Park around 7 a.m. Saturday.
A $2,500 reward is offered for information leading to arrest of the person or persons responsible. Anyone with info in the case is urged to call Senior Detective Ben Purvis as (912) 764-9911. Anonymous tips may be made online at www.tipsoft.com or by sending the text “TIPSSPD.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon also contributed to this story.