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Kids forum gets little response

March 23, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A school guidance counselor concerned about children's exposure to drugs and violence at a group of Berkeley County apartment complexes organized a forum and invited parents of Tuscarora Elementary School students to discuss the problem Wednesday.

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He got little response.

Those who were prepared to discuss issues with parents and children instead tried to think of ways to fight apathy and get parents to attend such meetings.

Tuscarora guidance counselor Larry Hoerner said students have been worried about drugs and violence in their neighborhood, and this month's shooting of a suspected drug dealer was "the last straw."

His forum was attended by law enforcement and social service representatives and the county prosecutor. One couple came with a child.

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Cpl. Russell Shackelford of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department said the stories that come out of Berkeley Gardens, known to local police as one of the county's drug-dealing hot spots, are disheartening.

Parents mindful of the potential for gunplay tell their children to stay inside when the sun goes down and to keep away from windows. When it's time for bed, some kids sleep on the floor, he said.

Tuscarora staff members noted that many of their students come from low-rent or subsidized apartment complexes such as Roberts Gardens, Berkeley Gardens and Joshua Gardens, which are grouped together off U.S. 11, and Martin's Landing, which is near Tuscarora.

There are about 380 students in the school, according to Cain. From the beginning of the school year until this month, about 160 students had moved away and about 180 others had enrolled, she said.

With such fluctuation, school officials say they can't always give students the help they need.

Cain said there are times when she feels helpless. A 7-year-old student told her about her mother and mother's boyfriend smoking crack in front of her, Cain said.

Elementary school children are going to the district's crisis team to talk about family members using drugs, said Mary Ellen Clark, a school nurse and crisis team member.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said kids 15 to 17 years old are being recruited to sell guns and drugs by dealers from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, she said.

This is not the same Martinsburg of 20 years ago, said Sgt. Glenn Macher of the Martinsburg Police Department.

"There are crimes out there that are horrible, and you would never think it is going on next door, but it is," he said.

The audience and the panel discussed how to turn the neighborhood around.

Games-Neely said residents should call her office, the police, or social service agencies when they think something is wrong, even if the question or tip is anonymous.

"Get involved in your child's life," Macher suggested.

"You have to teach them boundaries and you have to enforce those boundaries," Shackelford said.

Phyllis Michael, the leasing agent at Berkeley Gardens, said Berkeley Gardens is working to get a grant for a perimeter fence, security cameras and more officers on foot patrol. She said about 85 percent of the residents there are upstanding citizens and don't condone the drug deals that go on.

West Virginia State Police Trooper Eric Burnett said Berkeley Gardens is also home to people who use apartments to cook crack cocaine. Police have stepped up foot patrols there, and two weeks ago they found .40-caliber shells and drug paraphernalia in one apartment, he said.

On March 13, a state trooper shot Shimek Seabrook, 25, of Philadelphia, at Roberts Gardens after troopers investigating a possible drug deal heard gunfire, according to court records.

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