MARION COUNTY, Fla. – A best friend’s warning and a mother’s plea were not enough to protect 15-year-old Kyrion Weathers, an up-and-coming football player in Marion County and victim of gun violence.
“The last thing I said to him was, ‘Tighten up. Stay out the streets, because we need you for Forest Football’,” Izaiah Guy said.
Guy is a football standout at Forest High School and Weathers’ best friend.
“If someone got shot, I’d say, ‘You see why I’m always fussing at y’all’,.” Weathers’ mother Brittany Weathers said. “I showed him the shootings I saw on Facebook. I told him about the guns.”
(Scroll down to see how many guns were stolen in your local area.)
Marion County detectives say Weathers, who was weeks away from beginning his first semester at Forest High School, was shot and killed in July 2020, but he is not the area’s only teen victim. News 6 has learned of at least two other teen football players victimized by gun violence in Marion County and Ocala in less than a year.
Chris Chevelon Jr., known to his friends as Chevy, was shot and killed in a drive-by in December 2020, according to Ocala Police. Chevy, a player at Vanguard High School, died at the age of 15.
Then one month later, 18-year-old Omarea James, was shot. The teen survived, but a bullet was lodged in Omarea’s spine. The Trinity Catholic High School player was getting ready to finish his final semester before graduation.
“When a [teen] is involved in a shooting incident, whether it is a victim or a perpetrator, typically it is someone they knew,” Marion County Sgt. Paul Bloom said.
Bloom could not say if the guns used to shoot Weathers, Chevelon and James were reported stolen since all three cases are still active, but he did tell News 6 that he would not be surprised if the guns used in these crimes turned out to be stolen. “That likelihood is very, very high,” Bloom said.
(Anyone with information about the shootings is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (352) 368-STOP. You can remain anonymous.)
In the last year, Marion County saw a major increase in reported gun thefts, which went up 85 percent in 2020.
“When a gun is stolen, that gun was not purchased lawfully. There was no background check,” Bloom said.
He noted many of the weapons were stolen out of unlocked cars.
“Many times these people who break into cars are teenagers, and now a teenager has a firearm. A deadly weapon,” Bloom said. “No gun owner, no lawful gun owner would want his or her firearm falling into the hands of a teenager who has some bad intent with it.”
Marion County is not the only local area to see an increase in gun thefts last year. Kissimmee’s gun thefts nearly doubled, going up 95 percent in one year. Orlando’s gun thefts went up 34 percent and Osceola County’s went up 23 percent.
However, 2020 also recorded an all-time high for gun sales nationwide. While adults bought more guns, COVID-19 kept kids out of the classroom. “When school is out, we see a rise in vehicle burglaries,” Bloom said.
For law enforcement, more gun owners mean more opportunities to leave a gun in an unlocked car.
“We have seen an increase in stolen weapons, and firearms, unfortunately, turn back up at crime scenes many times. The victims that we talk to are really just mad at themselves for this, and they realize, ‘Oh my gosh. Now my gun is gone and my car was unlocked and what do I do?’,” Bloom said.
In Marion County, deputies believe the solution starts with gun owners.
“We started a campaign back in January about securing your firearms, trying to get the public’s attention saying, ‘Hey, we appreciate lawful gun owners’,” Bloom said. “Trying to encourage parents and responsible gun owners to be just that. Responsible.”
The graphic below shows the total number of stolen guns in local areas from 2019 to 2020. The following agencies did not respond to our request for gun theft numbers: Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Melbourne Police Dept., Port Orange Police Dept., and Ocala Police Dept. Trouble seeing the data? Click here.
The graphic below shows the percentage change in stolen guns from 2019 to 2020. The following agencies did not respond to our request for gun theft numbers: Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Melbourne Police Dept., Port Orange Police Dept., and Ocala Police Dept. Trouble seeing the data? Click here.