The murders of two teenagers — separated by only a few miles and a couple of hours — had decidedly different outcomes Wednesday: As one family demanded justice during an emotional vigil, the other could take solace that police had made an arrest.
Roderick Sweeting, 17, and Osmand Falls, 16, were both shot and killed Tuesday. Roderick was gunned down at 4 p.m. on his way home from school while wearing earbuds and listening to music. Osmand was killed two hours later in Little Havana as he stood on a street corner chatting it up with a group of friends.
On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Osmand’s death, Miami police arrested a 15-year-old known gang member named Jorge Roberto Franco and charged him with second-degree murder with a deadly weapon.
They said the two got into an argument at Henderson Park two blocks away from the shooting in front of a church at Northwest 10th Avenue and First Street and that Franco returned, walked up to Falls, shot him several times and fled.
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Police said witnesses quickly fingered Franco as the shooter and that they didn’t have much trouble finding him. Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes posted a video after the shooting, imploring parents to watch over their kids’ use of social media. He said Osmand was relatively new to the Little Havana neighborhood and that that may have sparked the fight near the basketball courts.
On the video, Llanes said kids are spending upwards of nine hours a day on social media and that fights that begin on sites like Facebook and Twitter allow for arguments to simmer and grow. That was the case in the February shooting death of 6-year-old King Carter in Northwest Miami-Dade. The child was caught by a bullet in the crossfire of a fight between teens that began on Facebook.
Llanes wouldn’t go into detail on what role social media may have played in Osmand’s death but said police are looking into it.
“We have a huge crisis in this area, and we need to address it,” the chief said.
Meanwhile, at the north end of the county in Miami Gardens, at least one person collapsed in an emotional heap and was helped to his feet and hugged as about 100 people gathered to mourn the death of Roderick, an American High School junior.
Teddy bears and candles were laid out in the parking lot of the Oaks apartment complex in Miami Gardens, near the spot where Roderick lost his life.
At one point, Roderick’s mother, Tammy Sweeting, addressed the crowd. For a woman who lost an older son to gunfire in Miami five years ago, she was particularly composed, shed few tears and never broke down.
“If anybody knows anything, please come forward because we would like justice for Roderick Sweeting’s life, because he didn’t deserve this,” she said. Later, she added, “Put the guns down because we’re losing our young men to stupidity.”
Police and family say Roderick had just exited the bus after leaving American Senior High on Tuesday afternoon and was walking through the Oaks Apartment complex at Northwest 176th Street and 25th Avenue when he was shot to death.
His brother, who was walking with him, ran and yelled when he heard the initial gunfire. Roderick, family members said, didn’t hear the sounds because of the music playing in his ears. A Miami Gardens police officer close enough to hear the gunfire rushed to the scene. But he was too late — Roderick was already dead.
Roderick loved science and sports and took advanced classes, family members said. No family or friends on Wednesday could come up with a reason for Roderick to be targeted — if he was.
Miami Gardens police haven’t released details or any suspected motive that may have led to Roderick’s death. Police Chief Antonio Brooklen said detectives are following some “solid leads.”
“I’m at a loss for words on the reasoning behind the violence that’s happening with our children,” Brooklen said.
The shooting deaths of Roderick and Osmand were a grim reminder of a tragic trend that continues to plague Miami-Dade County. In the past decade, almost 320 children and teenagers have lost their lives to gunfire, an average of about 30 children each year. Particularly hard-hit has been the northern end of the county.
Brooklen said the city is working with federal agencies to combat gang violence. He said inroads are being made at community policing in his city but still urged the public to watch their kids and come forward with information.
“I’m calling for the community to step up and provide information and help us rid this element out of the community,” Brooklen said.
Addressing the crowd at the Oaks apartments Wednesday night, Roderick’s cousin Gayle Neal urged parents to take a more active role in their children’s lives.
“We need our older men to grab on to our younger men because we’re breaking our link,” she told the crowd.
Later, during an interview, she said she wanted everyone to know that Roderick was a sweet, quiet kid who uttered maybe 10 words a day and had good, loving parents.
“We don’t want Roderick to be labeled as another black boy lost to violence, another statistic,” Neal said.
The family is planning an anti-violence march in the community on Saturday.