Slain Teen's Parents Seek Hope From Tragedy

August 31, 2009|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,

With the trial of the first of two Crofton teenagers accused of killing their 14-year-old son set for Tuesday, the parents of Christopher David Jones say they hope soon to look forward to something else: the construction of a community center in their son's memory, a place where teens can learn life skills and values.

"Our focus is getting kids in a structured environment ... where they learn how to treat people," said Jennifer Adkins, Christopher's mother.

Christopher died May 30 after being attacked by a group of teenagers as he rode his bike a few blocks from his Crofton home. Police have said the killing stemmed from a gang-related rivalry, though Christopher was not in a gang.

Adkins and David Jones, her ex-husband and Christopher's father, say they hope to see the creation of a faith-based nonprofit center called a LifeStation. It would serve as a gathering place for Crofton-area youths and, they hope, prevent similar incidents in the future. The independent center would be sponsored by the church where Christopher was active in the youth group.

The LifeStation concept was developed by business partners who are involved in Christian church outreach and building, and who plan to license the facilities nationwide as independent community centers. They see the centers as a way to prevent teen suicides, homicides and other crimes by teaching young people about the value of work and building their characters.

The model calls for youths to work at LifeStation micro-businesses, including a coffee shop and restaurant. The space would also include a performance area and lounges where teens could study or hang out, said Jerry Twombly, a senior LifeStation partner. Values such as honesty and helping others would be emphasized, Twombly said, and the center would award scholarships. The centers are put together largely by religious groups but would be designed to be open to all.

"We're not trying to proselytize or make them a member of a church," Twombly said. "We want to create an environment where it is cool to be good. ... They join gangs because that's one place where they can find some level of community."

No LifeStations exist yet, and even proponents acknowledge that creating a place where teens want to come - especially those who need guidance most - may be a challenge. Twombly said two LifeStations are being considered in Western states, and a group north of Baltimore is looking into renovating vacant mall space for one as well.

The project would cost between $2 million and $4 million, according to Dennis Gray, senior pastor at Riva Trace Baptist Church in Davidsonville, the church where Christopher was involved. Riva Trace could save money by building the center on its own property, but locating it elsewhere may entice other churches and organizations to participate, Gray said.

Adkins and Jones said they plan to help raise money for the project.

"We desperately want to do this," Gray said. "Our hope would be that we might have something to go forward with on the anniversary of [Christopher's] death."

Adkins and Jones said they thought they were doing the right things with their adolescent son - encouraging him in school, cheering him on at hockey, football and baseball games, keeping tabs on his whereabouts and keeping track of who his friends were. It wasn't enough.

The homicide shook the quiet suburban community and prompted what police say was a retaliatory firebombing at a Piney Orchard town house. Citing concerns for safety and the accused youth, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Philip T. Caroom has barred the public from all court proceedings of the younger of two teenagers charged in Christopher's death. The 14-year-old has been charged as a juvenile with manslaughter, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

A second youth, Javel M. George, 16, faces the same charges, though he has been charged as an adult. His lawyer has asked that he, too, be tried as a juvenile. A hearing is set for October.

Adkins and Jones said they are braced for the pain of hearing details in court of their son's fatal beating. But they don't want other parents to have to endure what they have, and they believe a gathering place for teens can help.

Another site for Crofton youths is in the early stages. Earlier this month, the Crofton Regional Community Center Foundation secured a county-owned site for a youth center near the Crofton public library. The project had stalled over the years but received renewed attention after Christopher's death. The foundation hopes to raise up to $7 million for construction.

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