(Columbia) Aug. 31, 2004 - Courtney Dixon, 12, and Terrance Merchant, 16, were gunned down last Thursday on TS Martin Drive.
Chris Liverman, 19, has been charged in connection with the murders. Police say Liverman has ties to a gang.
Officer Bruce Jackson is right there when the kids get off their bus at Columbia's Gonzales Gardens housing development, making sure they get to their next destination. Their destination is after school activities at the police department's substation or Koban , "Anytime these kids come here, we want them to have a safe place to study or do their homework or play."
Program organizers say it's never too early to start young people with some structured activities after school. At a Safe Haven program like this one at W.A. Perry Middle School, students could be as young as four-years-old.
Advocates say these programs could help head off tragedies like last week's fatal shootings. Police say an admitted gang member fired the gunshots that took the lives of Courtney Dixon, 12, and 16-year-old Terrence Merchant.
Columbia Mayor Bob Coble says it's critical for the city to help, "We're trying to divert kids, intervene in their lives and divert them from getting into gangs, gang-like activity or violence at an early age. That's what we've got to do."
Alfred Vanderpuije is W.A. Perry principal, "Programs like this really combat their opportunities to get involved in gangs, activities."
Many of the kids at Perry already realize that what they do there after school is fun or at least productive with comments from, "It's like work, but there's just a difference," and, "It's fun because, instead of home watching TV."
Programs like Safe Haven are well-established, but city and school officials say they have to do a better job of selling parents on the importance of getting children involved.
Students at W.A. Perry, the school Courtney attended, will share their thoughts about her death on Tuesday morning. Mayor Coble and Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine will also be on hand.
Funeral services for Courtney are scheduled for Wednesday and services for Terrence are scheduled for 2:00pm Tuesday.
A burial fund has been established to help the families of both Courtney and Merchant. If you'd like to help you can mail a check to the Columbia Housing Authority, 1917 Harden Street, Columbia 29204.