JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Family and friends of a young man shot and killed in Jacksonville Beach in late June are rallying support for a permanent memorial.
Leon Bennett was shot and killed near 7th Avenue North and 1st Street in Jacksonville Beach early June 24. No one has been arrested for the crime.
Bennett’s younger brother, Devin Bennett, feels the void left by his brother every day.
“He was just different from the new generation of people,” Devin Bennett said. “And he always had what was best in mind for everybody and he was always strong for our family.”
A memorial now marks the spot where the older Bennett, 23, was shot and killed. Close family friend Desiree Hodapp, who signed a petition for a memorial for Glen McNeil, Jr. last year, is leading the charge to get a permanent memorial put into place.
“His kids are young so it’d be nice over the years for them to have somewhere for them to come and just sit and remember…they may not know too much about him but they will have a piece of something to look back at,” Hodapp said.
Hodapp said she planned to get 1,000 signatures on the petition then bring it to city leaders.
Jacksonville Beach Police are investigating Bennett’s murder, in addition to two separate shootings that occurred the following weekend.
“We have an issue that’s systemic among society, not just in Jacksonville Beach,” Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham told First Coast News. “That’s an increase in crime, a lack of respect for the law, and we’re working hard to make sure that we’ve got it under control.”
Latham responded to residents’ concerns of going downtown after dark.
“I would say that downtown is perfectly safe until you get past midnight,” he said. “And that’s something that we need to work out with the bars.”
Ahead of July 4, Latham urged people to be aware of what’s going on around them and to trust their instinct to get out of dangerous situations. Noting that the recent shootings have all occurred in the early morning, Latham also urged people to be accountable for themselves and their friends.
“Historically we see that a lot of the people that are out after two o’clock in the morning are the ones that have closed down the bars, a lot of them have been over-served, a lot of them are not in the right frame of mind and they do things they wouldn’t normally do,” Latham said.
While Latham was tight-lipped about certain plans in the works to make the community safer, he revealed a few things planned for July 4.
Nearly every officer on the police force will be working the holiday and there will be additional resources from JSO. Latham planned to ride along with the police chief for the day.
Additionally, the mayor said every night when the bars close, there are officers stationed on every corner to try to keep things under control.
Finally, the city recently invested $500,000 for a video surveillance network in the downtown area. With that, law enforcement will be able to monitor live feeds from the police station.