RIVIERA BEACH — A weekend “Sweet 16” party went sour after gunfire erupted and left two teens dead.
The birthday celebration was held Saturday, Sept. 1 in the Newcomb Banquet Hall at the Riviera Beach Marina, 180 East 13th St.
A 16-year-old male and a 17-year-old male were killed at the event and six others were injured when a suspect or suspects allegedly started shooting following a verbal confrontation, according Riviera Beach police spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown.
Another young man, 17, shot two days later on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3 near the corner of Avenue E and West 27th Street in the city, is reportedly in critical condition. Allegedly the teen was standing in the street when someone walked up to him, perhaps engaging him in an altercation and shot the victim as he tried to flee.
Brown said the investigations of both incidents are ongoing but police are not releasing any details at this time. She added that the "Sweet 16" party shooting investigation is going “very well.”
Brown said that she thinks the problem is too many young people are acquiring guns and doing “bad things” with them.
"It seems to be an epidemic. When young people have guns it consequently winds up with loss of life," she said. "They should not have guns. They do not have the maturity."
South Florida Times photographer Alan Luby was an attendee at the “Sweet 16” party and said it was a harrowing situation. “I heard gunshots and dropped to the floor” as other people ran for the door, he said. “It’s a tragic situation for the children and everyone involved.”
Mayor Thomas Masters noted that most youth events, including parties, in the city take place without incident but there will be those deviant few from time to time.
“Sometimes people will take advantage of situations but 90 percent of the parties in Riviera happen without violence,” Masters said. “Young people have parties here every weekend. Most of our children are not selling drugs or carrying guns.”
Masters noted that the curfew ordinance implemented in 2007 in the city, requiring youths 17 and under to be home by 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends, seems to be working, since there have been no youths killed on the streets in the last four years during those hours.
He also pointed out that the city’s international baccalaureate magnet high school, Suncoast Community High, reported a 100-percent graduation rate this year.
Sports-related programs, scholarship incentives and youth job fairs seem to be effective deterrents to delinquent behavior as well, according to the mayor. He concurred with Brown, however, in saying young people having guns often leads to unfortunate outcomes.
“Unfortunately, guns are getting into the hands of children. Kids. When we were coming up, we didn’t have access to guns as children,” he said. ”We’ve got to find a way to get these guns out of the hands of these kids.”
Parents need to get back to basics and use common sense and good judgment with raising children, Masters said. He said it is important for parents to know the friends or associates of their children even if that means checking cellphones or Facebook pages.
Brown said the Riviera Beach Police Department is looking to work with the Palm Beach County School District and community organizations to build an
alliance in hopes of establishing a “spirit of respect for life” in area youths.
He said no one has all the answers and he would like the community to get involved.