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Two shooting deaths in 24 hours spark community concern

Police chief calls for end to gun violence, reassures community
Natasha Torkzaban
Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart speaks at a press conference on March 7.

In less than 24 hours this week, two unrelated shooting deaths took place within a two-mile radius of Lawrence High — marking continued violence that has often impacted teenagers.

Former LHS student Davin Gregory Kerr, 18, died after police say he was shot at about 10:40 p.m. March 5 in the 2900 block of Crestline Drive. Dawson Edward Paine, 21 of Topeka, has been identified as a suspect and was taken into custody around noon today by Topeka Police and is being held in the Douglas County Jail.

Kerr was the second Lawrence teenager to die from a shooting this year. Fifteen-year-old Brianna Rachelle Higgins died Jan. 19 in Olathe. Kerr had previously been an LHS student and Higgins was an LHS sophomore.

Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart said he worries about the impact of gun violence on teens.

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“It’s senseless gun violence,” he said at a press conference today. “Somehow as a community we need to figure out how do we end gun violence, because it’s killing our young people and it’s not fair.”

Gun violence also took a life downtown this week.

At 5:10 p.m. Wednesday, 39-year-old Vincent Walker was shot and killed in the 700 block of Vermont Street. Police took 32-year-old Nicholas Beaver, of Topeka, into custody Wednesday night in connection with the shooting. He is being held in the Douglas County Jail.

The weapon believed to be involved in the incident was located using a “gun-sniffing dog,” named Shiloh, from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The shooting occurred after an argument between two people, according to a press release from the Lawrence Public Library. There were many witnesses, and police ask that anyone with information contact their non-emergency line (785) 832-7509.

Both the Lawrence Public Library and Climb Lawrence were closed by the LPD to help secure the scene.

“We’ll inevitably experience more ups and downs as a community,” Heather Kearns, the library’s marketing supervisor said in an email to patrons. “Like many of us, you may be navigating shock and sadness, feeling unsafe and scared, and struggling with frustration and anger. We’re here for you and we’ll get through this together.”

While there are many concerns about safety in the community, Lockhart said during a press conference today that Lawrence remains a safe place.

“I think it’s really important to keep in mind that violent crime overall in Lawrence is not very high,” Lockhart said. “So when it happens, it is something that we should react to. Violent crime is not something we should be desensitized to. But overall, it’s a very safe community.”

The downtown shooting involved those in the unhoused community. Lockhart said that two of the people killed in the city’s three recent homicides were experiencing homelessness. Among them, 51-year-old Crystal White was found dead in her tent on Feb. 22 near the North Lawrence camp for people experiencing homelessness. These incidents have sparked conversation regarding the cause of rising violence within the homeless community.

Lockhart told the media that Lawrence needs to push for better funding of mental health treatment programs.

“It’s difficult to get treatment when you don’t have a safe place to live,” Lockhart said. “If you didn’t have a home to stay in every night, you were worried about where your next meal or where your shelter was going to come from you’d have some emotional and mental issues as well.”

This story was originally published on The Budget on March 7, 2024.