MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many are asking what went on in Ezekiel Kelly’s life that led him to allegedly go a shooting spree, killing innocent people.
Youth advocate Torrey Bates remembers when he heard Kelly was the person police said was behind the mass shootings in Memphis.
“I open the Facebook unknowingly and saw Ezekiel going in Autozone and saw him pointing the gun at the white brother and shooting them, you know, and I mean, I broke down crying,” Bates said.
Kelly is the kind of teen Bates tries to help at For the Kingdom Youth Services.
“This was a Raleigh kid, you know, someone who’s grown up in Raleigh, who went to Coleman Elementary right around the corner, and he’s dropped out of school,” Bates said. “He’s one of a few children in his home. The streets have essentially raised him since since middle school. And what comes with our pain are we’re looking for remedies for that pain. And when you’re growing up in poverty, again, poverty begets a lot of things.”
Bates says there are more Kellys out there.
“It’s an example to what is happening with our young people. We’re giving them daily doses of violence, even when we incarcerate them without a real plan for rehabilitation. We’re just subjecting them to violence,” Bates said. “And I think that it’s a part of what’s happening daily.”
It’s why For the Kingdom has made a strategic effort to reach the kids, especially in the Raleigh area, by listening and showing love.
Bates even had to turn to that love when he was victim of random crime and shot in the face last year. The bullet is still lodged in his neck.
“Yes, mental health is a part of having, you know, equitable access to therapy is a huge thing. But there’s a lot of love that has to go into that because most people aren’t open,” Bates said. “If my family doesn’t love me, then why am I gonna go speak with a stranger, right? And so for us, it starts with love and being that consistent lighthouse in the community that people can run to.”
Gang expert Jimmy Chambers is also trying to do the work of saving youth.
“If you catch them young enough, you got a chance to to make a change in their life,” Chambers said. “And not only with that, child, the parent has to be involved in that nurturing and that teaching.”
He says showing kids attention, giving them honest work, and teaching them skills so they can earn their own money keeps them from turning to crime to take someone else’s.
“I want to help a child so they can be independent and a citizen people want to grow up around,” Chambers said.
Camp Chambers is where he has been working one-on-one with kids who have been lured by the streets and gangs. He has turned around many, but also shows WREG a file of teens who couldn’t be saved and ended up in jail or killed by gun violence.
Bates tells us Kelly’s younger brother is in the For The Kingdom program, as is Kelly’s childhood girlfriend. Kelly wasn’t a part of it, at least not in the last four years that Bates has been executive director.