STEUBENVILLE - Michael Thomas has had enough.
The Jefferson Behavioral Health System case manager hopes the recent murder of his 17-year-old son may prompt city residents to unite to stop violence in the community.
The fatal stabbing was the fifth homicide in the city this year. A suspect in the murder surrendered at the police station hours after the incident.
Photo by Dave Gossett
Michael Thomas discusses a rally scheduled for Saturday at Murphy Park in Steubenville that aims to stop violence in the community. Thomas’ son, Demitrius Thomas, was stabbed to death last month in a Pleasant Heights alley. He is the fifth murder victim in the city this year.
Thomas was in bed the evening of July 25 when he received a call from his neighbors about ambulances in the alley near his home.
"I walked outside and my neighbors told me there might be a teenager's body on the ground. Then, a short time later, a police officer told me the victim might be my son. I was in denial. I was immediately nauseated and had chest pains. When they told me it was my son, Demitrius, and he had been stabbed, I was angry as hell. I told them it can't be him because Demitrius was spending the night with a friend. Then I was sent to the hospital because I was going into shock," Thomas recalled.
But instead of sinking into his personal grief, Thomas said he refused to wither away.
"My son always knew me as a fighter for people. And I know he is looking down today and he is proud of me because I am saying, 'Enough is enough.' We cannot continue allowing our young people to die like this. We have to stop the violence," Thomas said.
After his son's funeral, friends encouraged Thomas to organize a group known as United Neighbors Ignites Teens with Education and Drug Awareness by Fostering Education, Respect and Openness with Never-ending Truths, or UNITED FRONT.
The organization will hold a community cookout from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at Murphy Park in the city's Pleasant Heights neighborhood.
"We sat down and started talking about a name for the group. We decided we didn't want to come in the back door to talk about this. We are going to come in the front door. We need to unite as a community to stop the violence and killing of our young people. God was in all of our planning," Thomas said.
"It is our duty as parents and a community to train our children in the most effective manner," he added. "We can do that by giving the children all the opportunities and tools they will need to be successful adults. We need to come together and take back our community and our children. We will do this with love, discipline and encouragement by teaching our children how to love and respect themselves and others.
"I want to allow the kids to speak and to help change our city," he continued. "We need to help our kids and hold parents accountable. We also need to find out what our kids are doing and saying on social media. And we need to let the kids of our community know we are listening and we care."
Thomas hopes to see a large number of young people at the cookout, along with city officials, church pastors and community leaders.
"Our group cannot stop the violence by ourselves. There is power in numbers, and we are encouraging the community to support our mission with prayer, love, donations and time. We have to quit killing each other," Thomas said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla is a supporter of UNITED FRONT.
"We have to reach the young children and show them there is a better way. Five young people have been killed in the city this year," Abdalla said. "I am encouraged because I am hearing from people who want to stop the violence. We are taking action against the violence and I hope and pray we are successful."
Delores Wiggins of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus said black-on-black violence has to stop.
"We need to do everything we can to stop the violence and save our children. Five homicides this year are five too many," she added.
"My son would have been a junior at Big Red this year," Thomas reflected. "He spent a lot of time with other kids talking about respect for others. He was a bright kid, and I truly miss him. I miss hearing his voice. I am so grateful for the love and support from the community, and I feel the need to do what I can to stop this senseless violence."