BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's not a place a child should spend a birthday, but Juan Rodriguez turned 12 on Friday at the Erie County Medical Center. The boy was shot in the head Wednesday night and is listed in critical condition, along with a 20-year-old man.
"These incidents are gut-wrenching. They harm the entire community," said Mayor Byron Brown, D-Buffalo.
Brown said that's why the city and local peace organizations have gangs under observation, and pay close attention to young people involved.
"We have a focus on being tough on crime, so we have an increased presence in neighborhoods where we're seeing gang activity, where we're seeing people firing illegal weapons.," said Brown. "We think we're making a dent into the problem. It is a very small number of young people in the community that are involved in this activity.
"We have to continue to be tough to let people know that this behavior will not be tolerated, but to also be smart to let them know that there are alternatives to crime and violence."
"A lot of them don't want to die, a lot of them don't even want to shoot, but they're pressed into circumstances, feeling the need to do that, because they have no other alternatives in life, they have nothing else to do," said Pastor James Giles, coordinator of Buffalo Peacemakers.
Many of the outreach efforts aim to help them understand that isn't the case, and they do have options.
For the first time, Brown said the city is offering employment and training for at risk youth this year, and Giles said there are many programs offered by community organizations for those involved in gangs.
"Let us talk to you, you tell me what it is that's aching you," said Giles. "I'm a counselor, and I counsel many young men and we've been able to successfully bring a lot of them up out of this madness and redirect their lives into more constructive activities."
The end goal is to end the cycle of violence that unfolds in neighborhoods like Juan's.
"There unfortunately is a code with some of these young people that if a crime is committed against me, I'm going to take care of it myself. We're trying to break down that mentality," said Brown.
Another mentality to overcome: encouraging the community to help police solve these crimes. Anyone with information on the shooting can contact the Buffalo Police Confidential TIPCALL line at (716) 847-2255.