A Florida sheriff went on a rant against gun restrictions Friday while announcing the arrests of two minors in connection with a string of shootings that left three teenagers dead.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said during a news conference the two suspects were charged with first-degree murder.
Court records obtained by NBC News on Friday indicate one boy is 17 years old and a second one is 12. A third suspect, 16, remains at large.
NBC News does not usually name minors charged with a crime, even those charged as adults.
“There are individuals out there viewing, and includes some of you media, that want to blame the one thing that has no ability or the capacity to commit the crime itself, and that’s the gun. These individuals committed the crime,” Woods told reporters.
The sheriff said the suspects obtained the guns used in the shootings through car burglaries.
“All the gun laws we got in place didn’t prevent it, did it? Neither will any new ones. Because here’s the fact: The bad guy is going to get a gun no matter what law you put in place. These juveniles shouldn't even possess a handgun but they did,” Woods added.
Woods' remarks came more than a week after the first victim, Layla Silvernail, 16, was found March 30 bleeding from a gunshot wound by the side of a road in Marion County, about 60 miles northwest of Orlando. She later died.
Officials arrest two juveniles in connection to Florida murdersApril 8, 202303:02
On March 31, authorities said a 17-year-old boy was discovered lying beside a road with a fatal gunshot wound a few miles from where Silvernail was found.
The third victim, another 16-year-old girl, was found dead Saturday inside Silvernail’s vehicle, which was partly submerged at the edge of a nearby body of water, authorities said. She also had a fatal gunshot wound. During Friday’s news conference, Woods said the teenager was discovered in the trunk.
The three teen victims and the suspects, Woods said, all knew one another and were involved in committing burglaries and robberies and had gang affiliations.
"Now, although we had out there and it was gang-related, we have nothing specific to say that it was any rivalry or anything to such that cause. But, however, each and every one of them in some shape or form is associated with a gang,” he said.
“Basically simple terms, there is no honor among thieves. And at some point, these three individuals turned on our three victims and murdered them. Two of them right there. They fled the scenes, but left a lot of evidence in their wake.”
The 12-year-old and the 17-year-old are being held at a state juvenile justice facility, according to a spokesperson with the sheriff’s office. The state attorney’s office is reviewing whether the trio will be tried as adults, Woods said.
Walter Forgie, chief assistant state attorney, said in an emailed statement the prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office are in constant communication and “will aggressively pursue the prosecution of all the involved defendants.”
Forgie declined additional comment because a suspect remains at large.
The sheriff bemoaned how society fails to properly punish juvenile offenders. He took aim at the nation’s education system.
“Our school districts, not just here, across this state and nation need to quit minimizing the actions of their students. Hold them accountable. That’s where the failure is,” Woods said.
Debates on new gun laws have flared up nationwide following the March 27 mass shooting at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, that killed six people — including three 9-year-olds. In response to the shooting, hundreds of demonstrators packed the Tennessee Capitol calling for the Republican-led Statehouse to pass gun measures. GOP legislators voted Thursday to expel two Black Democrats over their protests on the chamber floor against gun violence last week.
According to a research letter published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, guns became the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in 2020, killing more people ages 1 to 19 in the United States than vehicle crashes, drug overdoses or cancer.
The research determined that more than 4,300 died of firearm-related injuries that year — a 29% increase from 2019.
“In the last 40 years, and almost certainly before that, this is the first time that firearm injuries have surpassed motor vehicle crashes among kids,” said a co-author of the letter, Jason Goldstick, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan.
He said homicides, rather than suicides, made up the majority of firearm deaths among children and teenagers in 2020. Gun killings, which disproportionately affected young Americans, increased by 33 % from 2019 to 2020.