Arizona cities fight group teen violence following death of 16-year-old


Over a dozen arrests have been made in a Phoenix-area city this year as it and other communities have grappled with group violence by teens, and after a 16-year-old died after being beaten outside a Halloween party.

Queen Creek police said they submitted charges for review against seven people in connection with the death of 16-year-old Preston Lord to the county attorney’s office in late December.

Last month, police submitted charges to prosecutors for review against seven people in the death of Preston Lord, 16, who was found beaten in a roadway in the town of Queen Creek on Oct. 28. He died two days later.

Prosecutors have not filed any charges, and say they are still reviewing it. There have been no arrests.

The seven people include both teens and adults, NBC affiliate KPNX of Phoenix reported citing police.

“I want to acknowledge the heartache that we feel from the passing of Preston Lord and the teen violence that’s happening in our region,” Queen Creek Mayor Julia Wheatley said at a Jan. 17 Town Council meeting, after a moment of silence.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell on Wednesday called the Lord case “extremely complex,” and said it involves an over 2,000-page police report and 2,000 pieces of digital evidence, including around 600 videos.

“We are working very, very, quickly to get this done because I know the community wants answers — and most importantly, Preston Lord’s family wants answers,” Mitchell said at a news conference.

Group teen violence issue

Authorities in several Arizona cities are grappling with the issue of group teen violence.

In the wake of Lord’s death, Queen Creek police pledged extra patrols in areas where teens congregate.

In Gilbert, which is adjacent to Queen Creek, in Arizona’s East Valley, 14 people connected to group teen violence have been arrested since the start of the year, including four this week, Police Chief Michael Soelberg told reporters Thursday.

The arrests were connected to incidents including an attack in November 2022, and an attack by a group in December of that year, police said.

Gilbert police are investigating 10 cases of group teen violence — five are reactivated and five are new, Soelberg said. The department has been focusing on the violence over a two-year period starting in February 2022, he said.

A police website on the teen violence cases show still images of groups of people attacking victims, including outside an In-N-Out restaurant in August, and inside a parking garage.

Police also have videos of attacks by teenagers and young people, Soelberg said.

“A lot of videos came out after Preston was killed,” he said.

Authorities in Queen Creek, Chandler and Mesa are also investigating a group called the “Gilbert Goons,” and are looking for any connection it may have to group teen violence cases in the communities.

No suspects have been publicly identified in Lord’s death and officials have not said whether the group has any connection to the deadly assault.

Soelberg has said that in cases reported to his department over the past year, no victims gave information that their attackers identified themselves as “Gilbert Goons.”

“It is now becoming clear that some individuals may be associating themselves with the term Gilbert Goons, and we now have an active investigation,” he said last week.

Officials are also looking at whether the group can be classified as a street gang under Arizona law, Gilbert police have said. The state Department of Public safety gang task force is part of the investigation into the group, Soelberg said.

“I don’t know where the name Gilbert Goons came from. It doesn’t seem to capture the seriousness of this. These are criminal acts,” Mitchell, the Maricopa County Attorney, said at a news conference Jan. 10. “If they are doing this through an organized street gang-type situation we will look at the enhancement of gang charges.”

‘Shocking’ rise in violence

Incidents of group teen violence in Gilbert, a city of around 267,000 southeast of Phoenix, made up less that .07% of all of the police department’s calls for service last year, but Soelberg this month called the rise in teen violence in the East Valley and Lord’s death “shocking.”

The violence and Lord’s death has also resulted in wrong information being posted online by members of the community, including innocent people being hurt by speculation, Soelberg said.

A 17-year-old was recently accosted outside of his home and wrongly called a murderer, and threats were made against him, he said.

“And it’s all because somebody put that address as a suspect address. And it was wrong,” Soelberg said.

“Everyone wants justice,” he said. “We can’t have vigilante justice.”

The night Lord was assaulted, officers had responded to a neighborhood at 9:07 p.m. for a “juvenile disturbance,” and saw a large number of juveniles leaving the area but no illegal activity, Queen Creek police said. They were diverted to a different call about a crime in progress.

At 9:49 p.m. officers returned to the same area as the earlier juvenile call for an assault call and found Lord in the roadway, police said.

Queen Creek Chief Randy Brice said at a town council meeting last week the case submitted to the prosecutor’s office is “extremely extensive.”

He called the Lord case “our top priority” and said that submitting the charges for review is “the most likely option for us to get a conviction.”

Mitchell said Wednesday it would be irresponsible to put a timeline on when charges could be expected in the Lord killing, but the prosecutor’s office is working swiftly. She said “there’s a frustration” in the community following his death.

“I think it also strikes to the heart of so many parents who, you know, they send their kid to a Halloween party or what they think is a Halloween party, and he dies,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

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