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Teen Violence

Cries for help: Teen violence inspires calls to action

Posted 3/2/24

After Stephen Jacobo was shot to death at a party in Mesa, his father obsessed about every details of what happened that night in November 2022. He had to know.

Mark Jacobo got those details …

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Teen Violence

Cries for help: Teen violence inspires calls to action


After Stephen Jacobo was shot to death at a party in Mesa, his father obsessed about every details of what happened that night in November 2022. He had to know.

Mark Jacobo got those details from the girl who sat with Stephen that night until he drew his last breath: how the suspect came to the party with a gun and how Stephen stepped forward in front of everyone to question the shooter why he had brought it, prompting him to shoot Stephen.

“My son, he is very caring, loving,” Mark Jacobo said. “He’s impacted so many people, not that he’s my son, but he truly had the talent to just approach people, even if he didn’t know them, and just how he would talk to people. He just brightened people’s days.

“And me as a father, not only as a father, but a proud parent, I had to do something about that. And I felt it was a must to continue his love, his legacy, his energy, to spread it and to help others because that’s what he would do.”

Mark Jacobo’s story is playing out again as the Southeast Valley as concerns about teen violence spike in the region. Frightened families are looking for resources to help them cope or protect children while victims and friends seek ways to address the situation and save others from their pain.

Jacobo answered that call by creating the Stephen Benito Jacobo Foundation, which aims to provide mentorship for troubled teens along with training and awareness for families.

Meanwhile, Queen Creek community activist and education consultant Katey McPherson has been building the UPstander campaign, aimed at encouraging people to take action rather than being bystanders to violence, in the wake of San Tan Valley teen Preston Lord’s killing in her town.

The town of Gilbert, site of a number of assaults and home to most of the suspects, has created a council subcommittee on teen violence that has highlighted existing resources while looking to create more.

“I hope when people say, we will never forget, and this can never happen again, that they mean it,” McPherson said. “And if they do mean that, that means every single one of us has a responsibility as a citizen, a community member, a parent, a human, to make sure it never happens again.”

SBJ Foundation

Mark Jacobo, a 48-year-old Mesa resident who owns a plumbing business, sees the reason for having the Stephen Benito Jacobo Foundation — or just SBJ Foundation — as simple.

“It’s just something that needed to be done to continue to share his legacy and his love for people,” Jacobo said.

Its aim is to bring awareness, educate and support families going through the pain the Jacobos are but also troubled youth “if they need any redirection, families that have kids that just need extra guidance, better decision-making, kind of like to be put in their place.”

While Gilbert Police and other agencies are looking into whether suspects can be considered part of a gang — a designation that bring extra criminal penalties — Jacobo sees it in different light.

“I think a lot of times, unfortunately, these careless acts, I don’t think it’s a gang problem,” he said. “I think it’s just a lot of kids that don’t have direction, unfortunately, regardless if it’s broken home, families that are too busy to just give their kids direction.”

That’s where mentoring comes in. Jacobo had an experience that reinforced that. A friend’s grandson got suspended from school for a second time for bullying, in this case throwing a trash can on a young kid. The student’s mother works a lot and his friend asked Jacobo for help.

“I just had a good heart-to-heart talk about to him about. If you’re doing these rude acts for no reason, it’s just going to get worse and you’re going to end up hurting somebody,” Jacobo said. “And unfortunately, when you make that bad decision, you can’t take it back. And I told him the story about my son, and it really brought life out of him. He ended up being a good kid.”

Jacobo gave him his personal phone number if he needed to reach out or felt he was going to make a bad decision so he could “give me a call, anytime day or night, and I’d be there for him.”

Jacobo believes the key to reducing violence is through parenting and spending more time with children.

“These communities pay a lot of money to put these nice parks in Gilbert, Queen Creek, Chandler, and no kids use them,” he said. “Why? Because they’re always on their phone watching YouTube. ... When do you see parents even playing outside with their kids anymore? You don’t even see that.”

He also emphasizes the importance of community unity and providing safe, cost-free spaces for children.

Jacobo’s foundation recently was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status but is still in development, building a website and spreading the word through town hall meetings and social media.

“There’s a lot of people already that have reached out just through social media that need support,” he said. “Not only support because they’ve lost loved ones, but just having to talk with their kids as well.”

UPstander campaign

McPherson sees the teen violence situation as a public health crisis, replete with trauma responses, in need of a bigger and faster response than can come from a subcommittee.

“We are in the middle of a crisis, so we should have a crisis plan,” she said. “And once those charges (in Preston Lord’s homicide) are announced, for a few days, the schools are going to be in chaos. The social media party is going to be chaos. And our kids are watching this, and they’re looking to us to guide them through it. And I don’t see any sort of framework for guidance.”

That is where the UPstander campaign came from. McPherson has been a friend to the Lord family and meticulously collected information on suspects and videos of assaults.

Watching those videos inspired her to action.

Katey McPherson has worked with others in the community after San Tan Valley teen Preston Lord’s homicide to create a campaign encouraging teens to be an “UPstander” rather than a bystander. (Courtesy Katey McPherson)
Katey McPherson has worked with others in the community after San Tan Valley teen Preston Lord’s homicide to create a campaign encouraging teens to …

“As I’ve said before, 99% of our kids don’t act this way,” she said. “But we do have some kids that are obviously struggling. And so when other kids that were standing around watching this didn’t report, didn’t tell their parents, didn’t tell anyone, unfortunately, they reinforced the violence.”

McPherson wants to inspire teens to act rather than watch — thus the word, UPstander in contrast to bystander. She took the term from the 2011 movie “Bully.”

The campaign has five pillars: if you see something, say something; give back to your community; validate others within your friendships; recognize healthy boundaries; use technology responsibly.

“We are trying to create sustainable behavioral change,” she said. “But it’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s going to take a while.”

McPherson sees it as an “overlay” rather than a curriculum in schools, something of a public-service announcement.

But she is planning an event for April 20, co-hosted by the town of Gilbert and Gilbert Public Schools.

It will be for up to 200 parents and fourth- through eighth-grader. It will discuss the impact of social media and video games; current trends in substance abuse; and coping and resilience strategies so children don’t fall victims to social media and substances.

McPherson sees those three as the big issues regarding current teen violence.

“The messaging I’m trying to get across is to both parties,” McPherson said. “The assailants, we don’t want to witness this. We want to witness your greatness. And to the victims and the bystanders who stood by and watched this, we want to witness your greatness. And it was not great that you stood around and filmed this and watched this and didn’t say something.”

Available now

Resources are in place now for people, as Gilbert officials presented during the second subcommittee meeting Jan. 31. Many have working partnerships with the town, including receiving some funding from Gilbert, according to Melanie Dykstra, the town’s volunteer and community resources manager.

Gilbert offers a nonprofit funding process, open to organizations serving town residents in need. The town’s nonprofit funding process, open to serving Gilbert residents in need, is designed around the town’s needs assessment, which identifies priority areas for focus and resource allocation, Dykstra said.

Nonprofits submit applications, which are evaluated by a committee. Selected nonprofits are contracted to provide specific services, with quarterly reports submitted to track progress.

The town works with more than 30 nonprofits, Dykstra said. It also publishes an online community resource guide that lists local nonprofits providing low- or no-cost services.

Dykstra cited a few different organizations that could be helpful through the teen violence issues.

Not My Kid works on mental health and substance abuse issues, but also has program opportunities looking at bullying and aggression. It frequently works through school districts but also has an open education series.

“Many challenges can tie together, too,” Dykstra said. “And so sometimes making sure that there’s awareness of a lot of different things that can impact someone’s behavior.”

Best Buddies is a schools organization that encourages inclusivity and ensuring kids can be seen at school and have a buddy even if they have a disability. Dykstra said that helps prevent bullying of those students.

Mentoring is available through Big Brothers Big Sisters, which Gilbert funds for 45 youth to be paired with 45 mentors.

“That’s a program that really focuses on making sure that kids can get direction that they’re looking for and feel like they have someone to talk to that maybe if that’s not available in the same way at home,” Dykstra said.

Safe and Secure works with Gilbert trying to put an app called Bark into the hands of 400 Gilbert families who might not otherwise afford it. The app monitors online activity looking for trigger words that can suggest bullying, sex trafficking or suicide could be at play. Safe and Secure also does workshops around digital safety.

The Boys and Girls Club, with a goal of serving 250 Gilbert residents, provides a safe-space opportunity for after-school activities under supervision, as well as homework help and providing a meal while kids are on site.

Assistant Town Manager Dawn Prince said the town is happy to help residents who ask to connect with resources that are available if they have a need. The town also encourages residents to volunteer with or donate to the nonprofits.

“We have great nonprofits that really are willing to serve our residents in the best way they can,” Dykstra said.

We would like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org. Tom Blodgett can be reached by email at tblodgett@iniusa.org or follow him @sp_blodgett on X.