External factors affecting teenage violence

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Teenage violence has increased in Northeast and Central PA, psychiatrists weigh in on possible factors attributed to such violence

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A shooting in Hazleton that injured a 17-year-old is the latest incident in our region involving teenagers and gun violence. While the incidents are not directly related, is there a common thread among the cases?

Eyewitness News spoke with a veteran law enforcement official and a psychiatrist about what we have seen in our region involving teens and violence. Both say there are no easy answers, but they do believe that the COVID-19 pandemic could be a factor.

“I would say at this point we are seeing an uptick of juvenile related with firearms offenses,” said Chief Brian Schoonmaker, the acting Hazleton police chief.

This just hours after a 17-year-old was shot in the head early Wednesday morning.

“We’ve had several incidents in the city where we have individuals as young as 15 years old arrested multiple times and each time, they have a stolen firearm on them at this point,” Chief Schoonmaker said. 

In recent days a 14-year-old male was shot in Williamsport, and three teenagers are locked up in connection with a shooting that killed a 15-year-old male, and injuring another teenager.

Chief Schoonmaker has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. He could not comment on all of these shootings because he is not involved in the investigations, but said generally speaking, violence prevention starts at home.

“The adults are usually the first to see any type of indication of something at home or some type of home life problem. They would see that kids are restless or trying to get involved in some type of violence. They would see their attitude, their demeanor, their body language changing over time. I would expect parents to see this and try to intervene with their children,” Chief Schoonmaker said.

Psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Berger believes that some of the violence may be connected to anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You can’t lock kids, people between the ages of 12 and 30, down and tell them you can’t play sports, you can’t go out, you can’t visit friends, you can’t go to school. It’s like a spring under tension and it explodes at some point,” Dr. Berger said.

Dr. Berger says nothing can be taken off the table when it comes to teen violence in this the era of COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of built-up tension every day. I think that frustrations, tolerance goes down people get more irritable, they are more quick to fight more quick to just get involved in bad behavior,” Dr. Berger said.

The investigations into all of the shootings mentioned, are still under investigation.

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