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VIDEO: Florida Sheriff Says Failure To Hold Teens Accountable Is Root Cause Of Violence, Not Guns

Ocala, FL – Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said society needs to stop making excuses for juveniles who harm others and violate the law and argued that enacting more gun control will not stop violent crime (video below).

Sheriff Woods had strong words for the media and school district officials on April 7 as he discussed a recent Marion County case in which three juveniles allegedly shot three other teens to death and dumped their bodies in separate areas within a five-mile radius of one another late last month.

He said the three suspects were in a burglary gang with the three teenage victims who were found dead, according to the New York Post.

“There’s no honor among thieves,” Sheriff Woods said during a press conference on April 7. “At some point, these three individuals turned on our three victims and murdered them.”

One of the suspects, Christopher Atkins, is just 12 years old.

Sheriff Woods noted during the media briefing that everyone is always trying to figure out the reason behind such acts of violence.

“I’ll go ahead and address the first thing that I know is going to come up, because there are individuals out there viewing and include some of you media, who want to blame the one thing that has no ability or the capacity to commit the crime itself, and that’s the gun,” the sheriff said. “These individuals committed the crime.”

Sheriff Woods said he does not have a clear-cut solution to the question of how to stop violent crime, but said society is at the root of the problem.

“The fact is, society fails [our children],” Sheriff Woods said during the press conference. “We do not hold our juveniles accountable. We minimize their actions.”

Sheriff Woods blasted members of the media who complain about photos of juveniles accused of crimes being lawfully released to the public.

He said that part of the reason those photos are released is so parents can be informed and vigilant regarding who their children are associating with.

“If the law allows me, I’ll plaster their face up on this page, up on my page, up on the media,” Sheriff Woods continued. “I will hand it out if the law allows me, because parents have the right to know who they’re kids are hanging out with!”

According to the sheriff, the mother of one of the teens involved in the triple homicide told police she wished she had known more about who her son was spending time with.

“I wish I would’ve known what this one was doing and who they were, because my kid never would have hung out with them,” the mother said, according to Sheriff Woods.

“To think and believe – to minimize – any action that is criminal… is a disservice, and frankly stupid to think,” the sheriff continued. “We need to hold them accountable and then hope that we can change them.”

Sheriff Woods said he understands how difficult it can be to raise children and noted he is also a father.
“I might be hard on people, but I also have a heart,” he said. “Here’s the one thing my boys know. Growing up, the freakin’ barber had my permission to whip their -sses.”

Sheriff Woods also took issue with those clamoring for gun control who argue it would put an end to such violence.

“All the gun laws we’ve got in place didn’t prevent it, did it?” he asked.

“Neither will any new ones. Because here’s the fact: the bad guys are gonna get a gun no matter what law you have put in place,” Sheriff Woods added. “These juveniles shouldn’t even possess a handgun, but they did.”

The sheriff said his heart goes out to the parents of both the victims and the suspects.

“Put yourselves in their shoes. Holy hell,” he told reporters.

Sheriff Woods said the teens responsible for the horrific killings deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law.

“They took a life – are you all comprehending that?” he asked the roomful of reporters.

Sheriff Woods said school districts also need to do more to hold juveniles accountable.

“School districts across this state and across this nation need to quit minimizing the actions of their students,” he declared. “Hold them accountable. That’s where the failure is.”

Marion County sheriff’s deputies arrested Atkins, 12, and a second suspect, 17-year-old Robert Robinson, last week in connection with the triple homicide, WCJB reported.

Atkins was arrested at his home on April 6.

Robinson was already in custody for getting into a fight at school when he was charged in connection with the shootings, WCJB reported.

Atkins and Robinson have been charged with first-degree murder, according to CNN.

A third suspect, 17-year-old Tahj Brewton, was apprehended south of Groveland, Florida, on April 8 by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

Brewton has been charged with tampering with an electronic monitoring device, fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, grand theft of a motor vehicle, aggravated assault, and carjacking with a firearm, CNN reported.

Additional charges are expected.

Layla Silvernail, 16, was found inside a dumpster on Southeast 183rd Avenue Road at approximately 10:52 p.m. on March 30, WCJB reported.

Silvernail had been shot in the head, but was still alive.

She was rushed to a local hospital, but was later pronounced dead, WCJB reported.

Police said a 17-year-old male wearing black gloves and a ski mask was found dead in a ditch about a half-mile away from Silvernail’s body the next morning, the New York Post reported.

The boy’s body was found by a girl as she was on her way to the school bus, according to the Daily Mail.

“I was walking with my brother and I found the guy… he was not breathing,” the girl later told the news outlet. “He was laying on his side and was wearing a black hoodie, black shirt, black pants and black shoes. He had the hoodie over his head and he had a black mask up over his face. I couldn’t see his face. You could only see his eyes.”

Silvernail’s car was found abandoned and partially submerged in a pond near Ocklawaha about nine miles away from where her body had been dumped, the New York Post reported.

Investigators said they found the body of 16-year-old Camile Quarles in the trunk of the car.

“[Atkins’] involvement as far as I could tell you is that he shot the third victim, who was (found) in the trunk of the car,” Sheriff Woods said, according to WKMG.

The sheriff said the three suspects “left a lot of evidence in their wake,” the New York Post reported.

Investigators said the six juveniles had all been riding together in Silvernail’s vehicle at one point during the night, and that they believe one of the victims intended to purchase a gun from one of the suspects before the triple homicide occurred.

The weapon used in the shootings had been stolen during a car burglary, according to the sheriff.

Sheriff Woods said it appears all three victims were killed at the same time, and that investigators have found a witness who said they heard the gunfire, the New York Post reported.

It is unclear whether the three suspects will be tried as adults.

Silvernail, Brewton, and Quarels have all attended Lake Weir High School, Marion County Public Schools (MPS) officials told WCJB.

Quarels quit going to class before spring break, and Silvernail withdrew from the high school in January to be homeschooled.

Brewton bounced between Lake Weir High School and alternative school since April of last year, WCJB reported.

Watch the sheriff’s rant in the video below:

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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