Dead End

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"Deetjen told me Steven Jennings was a bad guy and got what he deserved," Adams says. "I was shocked and really hurt by what he said that day."

Deetjen didn't return a call from New Times for comment.

It's a common complaint: The city isn't doing enough to confront the crisis.

"There doesn't seem to be any brouhaha at all over this, and I can't believe that," says Brown, the automotive training center tutor. "If these were Parkland kids, it would be talked about everywhere."

The implication is clear: Because this has been happening in a working-class black neighborhood, it has been all but ignored.

Deetjen lost his job at the city last year after he was accused, ironically, of throwing a racist tirade at an airport. But city officials still seem lost as to what to do.

"We are looking for answers," Commissioner Steve Gonot says. "It's not easy."

Commissioner Sylvia Poitier, the only black elected official in the town, is pushing a mentoring program, complete with government training for volunteers, called "Hug a Thug." The title alone has been met with such great skepticism that it seems doomed from the start. Strobridge, who often works with Poitier, laughs at the program's title but says it's still a step in the right direction.

BSO, meanwhile, has beefed up enforcement with the "Cease Fire" operation. Although that may slow the violence, it won't, as Artelus points out, solve it. "What BSO needs to do is round up a group of people on both sides, put them in a room, and let them talk it out," he says. "We need people to come to a truce."

Jennings' mother says she hasn't seen much change.

"Everybody just lets this go on in Deerfield," Hankerson says. "So people think they can get away with it."

Her son's killers have gotten away with it so far. Nobody has been arrested in Jennings' murder, and the attempted-murder charges against Watson and Mortimer were dropped after his execution on the street. Hankerson says she took the stand at a court hearing, trying to represent her lost son, but both suspects were allowed to go free.

Then, on the night after Christmas in 2005, it happened again.

This time, it hit even closer to home for Strobridge. He was with longtime friend Ozell Jordan on that chilly evening at the Stanley Terrace Apartments on SW Second Street, across the street from Westside Park.

Not long after leaving the apartment about 9 p.m., he heard gunshots, by then a routine occurrence. Strobridge thought it might have been in celebration of the coming new year.

Then a young boy ran up and told him that somebody had been shot in the complex. Strobridge raced to Jordan's place, Apartment 64, to see his friend lying facedown in a puddle of blood. While others tended to the 24-year-old victim, Strobridge tried to comfort the mortally wounded man's mother, Linda, who was calling her son's name over and over again.

"Ozell was trying to talk, but he couldn't get any words out," Strobridge remembers.

Jordan was pronounced dead at the hospital less than an hour later.

"That's a night I'll never forget," he says. "I was praying for him until the paramedics got there."

The shooting remains a mystery. Strobridge says that, unlike Jennings, he didn't know Jordan to have any enemies. He wasn't violent or known to carry guns either. Records show, however, that he had been arrested on cocaine charges just six weeks before his slaying. The prevailing belief among those at Stanley Terrace Apartments is that a Haitian faction was involved in the murder, Strobridge says.

Whereas Jennings' funeral was marked by rage, Jordan's was dominated by sheer despair. "It was a very, very sad funeral," Strobridge says. "Everybody was confused and shocked. Of all people, why would it happen to a nice person like Ozell?

"I'm really tired of parents burying their kids."

Wayne Adams, who was born and raised in Deerfield, says shootings are so regular there now that he can sense when one is due. "You can feel it coming," he says. "It's about one a week, I'd say. Then somebody has to spray somebody's house or the park."

Law enforcement records support Adams' estimate. From the beginning of 2006 through the middle of this January, there were 101 shooting complaints, 45 of them confirmed.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman