Latest teen murder highlights rise of gang violence in Lakeland neighborhood

LAKELAND, Fla. - Lakeland Police Department arrested two 16-year-old boys Monday in the murder of Demarco Powell, whose body was found near railroad tracks in the city's northwest side.

Investigators believe a conflict within the same gang led to his murder, the latest in a growing number of shootings that have occurred in that area of town.

"In the last couple of years, that has gotten worse," said Gladys Leggett, the 94-year-old woman for whom the neighborhood is named. "I don't feel as free as I used to, sitting out there on the bench out here in the yard."

Her bench sits empty because Leggett doesn't feel the security she once felt just a few years ago.

These days in the northwest side of Lakeland it's not at all uncommon to hear gunshots.

As Morris Chestang described, they feel surrounded by gangs and violence.

"We are mostly retired, but now we've got people moving through that are doing stuff over there and over here," he said, pointing to either side of his house.

One woman who spoke to ABC Action News off-camera was in the middle of cleaning her house because she's doing everything possible to move out of the neighborhood as a result of the violence.

The same woman said she heard the gunshot loud and clear Friday night that killed Powell.

While police believe the shooting is due to a conflict within a single gang, Powell's father disagrees.

"I know my son was not in no gang. They can say what they want, but I know better," said Altwanna Kizer, who came down from his home in Atlanta when he learned his son was shot.

In the past eight months, LPD has investigated eight gang-related drive-by shootings in the same neighborhood. Typically, there's only a couple a year.

Since then, city leaders have organized community meetings, and LPD stepped up patrols, putting more focus on schools.

"The plan on the streets is we're infusing our school resource officers, working with the schools to reach the kids who haven't been recruited yet by gangs," said Chief Larry Giddens.

Mayor Howard Wiggs announced Tuesday the formation of seven new task forces in Lakeland, including one to come up with a plan of action on gangs.

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