Sunday, September 13, 2009

Teen's last words are a rallying cry

“Not every battle you are in is made to be won, but it can make you stronger.”

Those were the last thoughts written by Jasmine Thompson, buried Saturday amid the prayers, tributes and soul-searching of friends, family and community members. Such wise words for a teenager, and words to live by.

Reporter Beth Burger gave us a quiet, thoughtful account of the funeral, closing a long week of mourning for this family. A friend called me after the tribute, still in the grips of all that emotion. She was unexpectedly impressed with ESPN sports broadcaster Dick Vitale's inspirational words to the throng of teenagers gathered there. "He was really getting through to them," she said. "They needed to try making sense of all this, and he threw some tough love at them."

And, she said, it may have struck a chord. At least 30 of Jasmine's friends and classmates came forward at the end of the almost three-hour service, wanting to express their faith and to find guidance.

We hope to follow these youth. We hope to find that Jasmine's death helped bring them to choose a path without violence.

Some readers have questioned why we would keep this story on our front pages. I'm taken aback by that. The kids in the congregation of Happy Gospel Church are why. One death is too many. Two in a month -- ridiculous. A record homicide rate? Your community's newspaper owes it to you to ask why and rally for solutions.

Reporter Robert Napper spent some long hours last week after writing his daily coverage, looking in this report at the growing trend of how stolen guns are ending up on the street, and in the hands of violent criminals. The report isn't an argument against gun ownership. It raises questions about lax gun ownership laws, and highlights a vicious cycle that appears to be gripping Manatee County.

It's a wakeup call for everyone to take responsibility in making our community safe.

-- Joan

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