In response to a murder that “rocked” Middletown, the police department is working with community leaders and local schools to begin an initiative called “Enough Is Enough.”
The idea was sparked after the shooting death of Benny Barefield, 48, on Dec. 14, which left several Middletown families “shocked, troubled and angry,” said Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw.
“It tore apart a city,” he said.
Mixing police staff with community members, some of whom have served time in prison, the effort will involve visiting students in local high schools. Because Muterspaw and others remember those charged in connection to Barefield’s murder as “normal” young kids, they’re hoping to reach others before they make bad decisions.
“You are not going to stop all violence. We know that,” Muterspaw said. “But if we reach a handful of kids who can turn it around. If we can get a couple of kids to stop. When you pull that trigger, you have no idea what you’re doing to that family. You are destroying their family and your family. You not only put somebody in the grave, but your family losses you, too.
“The message is: There is no future in this gang stuff. You are going to prison or you are going to end up dead. It’s that simple.”
Muterspaw put together a team that includes Sgt. Earl Nelson and officer Holly Owens from the Middletown Division of Police and community leaders Mark and Katrina Wilson, Tony McClain and Cal Willis.
They are “committed” to working on ways to reduce violence and following up to the problem even when “things are going well,” Muterspaw said.
Quanterius Keith, Dwight Bailey III and Daniel Fitzgerald face charges connected to the murder and participating in a criminal gang, and a 17-year-old is charged with conspiracy and participating in a criminal gang.
Keith was withdrawn from Middletown schools his senior year for non-attendance, Bailey III withdrew from Middletown his junior year and attended Marshall, Fitzgerald graduated from Middletown in 2016 and the teenager graduated from Juvenile Detention Center, according to school records.
One of those charged spent a lot of time in Muterspaw’s home with his son, he said.
“Now not only has Benny’s family’s lives changed forever but the family’s lives of those accused have changed forever,” he said. “There is a lot of bitterness right now in the Middletown community specifically with younger people due to this incident.”
When Keith and Bailey III appeared for their preliminary hearings Wednesday in Middletown Municipal Court, as many as 12 Middletown police officers ringed the courtroom. Muterspaw said he’s concerned there may be more gun violence in the community from those seeking revenge.
The “Enough Is Enough” program, which will include video from the families impact by Barefield’s murder and other recent shootings and testimony from McClain and Willis, who both has served time in prison, will be presented to students at Middletown and Marshall high schools.
“There are no bad kids, just kids making bad choices,” said Carmela Cotter, Middletown High School’s principal. “There is a difference.”
McClain and Willis certainly will be able to talk from their personal experiences. Both have served time in prison, and now they’re working to reduce the number of kids making the same mistakes.
Willis works at Lebanon Correctional Institute with inmates preparing to re-enter society. McClain, 38, works with youth at the Butler County Juvenile Detention Center and mentors students at Marshall High School. He was jailed in the juvenile detention center when he was caught with a gun when he was 14, and spent numerous years in prison.
So when he meets with troubled youth, he tells them: “I see myself in you.”
He knew several people allegedly involved in Barefield’s murder.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said.
Muterspaw called McClain and Wills “true success stories” who over the last decade have turned their lives around. He remembers arresting them multiple times.
“They saw the light and they don’t want kids to go through what they went through,” Muterspaw said.
Katrina Wilson said she knows the families of the victim and those allegedly responsible for his death. That’s one of the reasons she was “deeply saddened” by the recent violence.
“We have to find ways to reach young people before they get into gangs, violence,” she said. “This was so senseless. It impacts so many people. Young people, they can’t see beyond themselves. Once you pull that trigger, you can’t get it back. There are no do-overs.”