Gangs attract at-risk youth in Louisa

Violent incidents involving young people in Louisa County this summer, some of which may be gang-related, spurred Lonnie Quarles to do something to stem the tide of dysfunction.

With years of experience as a mentor in juvenile prisons and state rehabilitation centers, Quarles has seen plenty of youth who went down a bad road. He hopes a class he is teaching on Sept. 14 at the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center can help steer people in a different direction.

“Post-graduation, the youth population has become stagnant in the county,” Quarles said. “That day-to-day frustration and no movement has resulted in some pent-up anger that is showing itself. What I’m trying to do is offer an alternative.”

Quarles is not the first person in Louisa to take action in response to young people’s antisocial behavior, and the issues he is concerned about are not entirely new to the county. But a series of events this summer has put a spotlight on the matter.

A June 1 shooting outside the laundromat in the town of Louisa involved two juveniles and an 18-year-old man, all of them former Louisa County High School students. The juveniles arrested after the shooting are alleged to be members of a gang associated with the Crips, according to a document on file at Louisa County Circuit Court.

There were also shootings on May 28 at a party near Gordonsville, on June 3 at Six-0-Five Village off Willis Proffitt Road, on Cuckoo Road on July 2, and on Pendleton Road on Aug. 7, all of which remain under investigation.

After the Cuckoo Road incident, Major Donald Lowe of the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office said the spate of shootings was evidence gangs pose a threat in the county.

“A good way to judge whether a community has a gang problem is your acts of violence,” Lowe said. “When you start seeing armed robberies and shootings, you can’t ignore that.”

Louisa experienced the effects of gang violence in 2014 when the 99 Goon Syndikate, which included members with local ties as well as people from Northern Virginia, committed several high-profile crimes. These included armed robberies of stores and the kidnapping and murder of a police officer.

This summer’s wave of shootings, by contrast, seems to involve a group of young people who know each other, though many details of each event remain to be revealed in court.

Rico Smith knows most of the Louisa youth who are in trouble. Indeed, he has met many young men at risk while serving in his role as vice-president of the Louisa Pride basketball league. He also helped found Above the Rim, a program to mentor students at Moss-Nuckols Elementary School.

To read the entire story, see the Sept. 8 edition of The Central Virginian.