Gun violence survivor, advocate at Menchville game discusses support needed for youth

Gun violence survivor speaks out
Posted at 3:05 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-18 21:53:00-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - The parking lot was packed, and police were on patrol Thursday afternoon at Menchville High School.

"For people to go into a basketball game - one of the most exciting of the season - and for that to be snatched away in a moment, there are people in survival mode," said Newport News resident Cameron Bertrand.

Bertrand was at that rival game Tuesday night when a fatal shot was fired in the parking lot, killing 17-year-old Justice Dunham. Eighteen-year-old Demari Batten has been charged in his murder.

"Not even before I got home, I started getting phone calls," he said.

Bertrand was only at the game attended by close to 1,000 people for 10 minutes, stopping into see teens he mentors on the court.

"Being able to come in and have people de-escalate situations before they happen, there were no indicators that I saw," he said.

Bertrand wishes there was conflict resolution after words or gestures were exchanged between the teens.

"These are young people and adults impacted by something they couldn’t prepare for," he said.

In 2015, Bertrand was shot in the leg after leaving a Norfolk State football game. As a gun violence survivor himself, he says now is the time for mental health services and counselors to step in and offer what he calls a "trauma-informed" approach for students, staff and families impacted.

"When you talk about urban traumatic stress disorder there are people that may never go to a high school basketball game in city ever again," he explained.

His own trauma prompted him to launch VIP, or Violence Intervention and Prevention, where he mentors youth, offering counseling and resources for kids and their families.

"We have young people that are dying. This isn’t a book, not a Netflix series - this is real life," said Bertrand.

His plea is for people to step up and do something - hit the ground, offer your ear or open your door to at-risk youth or those who are coping.

"This problem is not going to go away. We can't keep scapegoating it and reshuffling the deck, [the] same things that have been done and expecting different results," he said. "We have to be present - let people know we are accessible that we are around."

Related: Newport News community spreads message of hope following deadly shooting outside school