Killeen: Cookout unites community, push to end crime

KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) Across the city of Killeen, the youth have started a movement to end the violence.

Across the city of Killeen, the youth have started a movement to end the violence.

On Saturday, the group “Change Starts with You,” the mother of Jonathan Martinez-Cruz, Keila Cruz, and Rebecca Camps-Rivera led a cookout at the Killeen Community Center.

Martinez-Cruz was murdered in 2019. His murder remains unsolved.

The cookout was all about improving the city for children in the community and a call to put the guns down.

“Put the guns down, there are no need for guns,” a teen said.

After 16 reported homicides in 2019 – and six this year – the youth are hoping to send a message of change.

“We want stuff to happen, we want everything to be better, and we don’t want any more violence,” said 19-year-old Donyae Marshall.

Marshall, along with other teens such as 18-year-old Ariana Laboy, say Martinez-Cruz’s murder hit home.

“You really don’t understand it until it hits home. When our friend died, we all felt it. Once it hit home, it kind of snapped like dang we got to change it,” she said.

From vendors, to food and games for the kids, there was fun for everyone with an emphasis on uniting the community.

“What is happening in Killeen is a vicious cycle of suffering where no one gets peace on any side. That is why we are here today. That is why the youth and all of you are here today. We will not watch from the sidelines any longer,” Keila Cruz said.

During the cookout, there was a special moment as the names of Killeen’s homicide victims were read off with a balloon release.

A rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” sent Cruz and her daughter to tears, looking up at the sky as the sun broke through the clouds.

She has turned her pain of losing her son into helping other families.

“Losing a son is the worst pain a mother can feel,” Keila Cruz said.

The cookout was just the beginning of many events planned to start the conversation of uniting the Killeen community and ending the violence.