YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Police and the city administration today pleaded with those who were at a birthday party Saturday where a 15-year-old girl was shot and killed to come forward with information on what happened.
At an early afternoon press conference at the police department, Lt. Mohammad Awad of the Detective Bureau said there were “hundreds” of people present Saturday evening at Martha’s Boulevard Tavern, 3503 Southern Blvd., when gunfire broke out and took the life of Valley Christian School student Amya Monserrat.
Valley Christian president Michael Pecchia says the freshman cheerleader made an impact on her classmates.
“No parent is supposed to lose a child — especially at that age,” Pecchia said. “It’s going to be shocking. We’re grieving.”
The school closed for Monday to let students grieve.
“Amya’s not going to be sitting at her desk tomorrow, and that’s tough for kids to process,” Pecchia said. “We’ve had discussions about her locker and her seat in the classroom.”
Chief of Detectives Capt. Jason Simon described Monserrat as a leader.
“If the community wants to remember her as a leader at her young age, the community needs to step up and lead and speak to the investigators,” Simon said.
Monserrat’s death is the fourth homicide in the city this year. Simon pointed out that all the homicide victims — and suspects — are very young.
Awad said there are suspects and detectives are combing through hundreds of hours of body cam footage and video surveillance. Saturday’s shooting was the culmination of a feud between two groups that had been festering online for the past couple of weeks, Awad said.
There were confrontations at the party earlier in the evening before the groups traded gunfire about 10:40 p.m. Monserrat was shot in the parking lot and was placed in a car to be driven to the hospital when officers arrived and found her.
Police performed first aid on her until an ambulance crew took her to St. Elizabeth Health Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said as a father of four, he cannot imagine the grief Monserrat’s family is going through.
He urged parents who knew her or were at the event to check on their children to see how they are holding up.
“Realize how precious your children are,” Brown said.
Police Chief Carl Davis also offered prayers for the family and asked anyone with information to come forward and help police. He said having the community’s help is essential in keeping the neighborhoods safe.
“It is crucial that we as a people keep our neighborhoods by providing information on crime,” Davis said.
Awad said that when he was speaking with parents of witnesses who were at the restaurant late Saturday into Sunday morning, a lot of them had no idea their children were at the party or they did not know who their children were with.
“If you don’t know where your kid is and you don’t know who they’re hanging out with, you’re leading them on a path of problems for the future,” Awad said.
Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, was visibly upset, saying that she had a cousin who was murdered at 15 in a similar fashion.
A 36-year veteran of the city police department, she said the job can “harden your soul,” but events like Saturday’s shooting “is the kind of stuff that rips your heart out of your soul.” She stopped speaking and left the room to compose herself.
“We can’t sit back here and throw our hands in the air and say there’s nothing we can do about this,” Anita Davis said. “We’re going to wrap our arms around this family, but we as a community have to help each other to do better. We can’t accept this as our normal.”
Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, said residents have to take a hard look at themselves and realize that “it’s us trashing our community.”
“It’s our kids killing our kids,” Oliver said.
He said a parent’s natural inclination is to defend their child, but he said some parents need to speak up when they know their child is doing something wrong. He said that could make a difference in saving their children’s lives or someone else’s.
“Sometimes, the best thing to do for your baby is to understand that your baby needs help, and by helping your baby, you help save the lives of somebody else’s baby,” Oliver said. “It’s on us.”
City Law Director Jeff Limbian also warned that anyone who has assisted those who took part in the gunfire could be charged with complicity and could face the same penalties as someone charged with murder, even if they never pulled a trigger.
“Understand that you are putting yourself at great risk of going to prison for the rest of your life,” Limbian said.
Of the city’s four homicides this year, two victims are 19, one is 22 and one is 15. A man who was arrested for a shooting death last week and charged with voluntary manslaughter is 19.
Last year, one person under 18 was shot and killed. In 2021, five people 18 and under were murdered.