The story of three Lawrence teens who are suspects in seven armed robberies while also participating in a grant-funded jobs program for “at-risk” youth illustrates everything that’s wrong with the way the justice system and social service programs treat youthful offenders.
According to police, Friday night Michael Tesaun Alicea, 19, Richard Mora, 18, and Ruben Saldana, 18, burst into a South Union Street convenience store, roughed up an employee and barricaded themselves inside. They tried and failed to shoot their way out of a locked back door and surrendered when police surrounded the building. Police are looking for a fourth person, a suspected getaway driver who fled the scene.
Police found the employee hiding in a freezer after the robbery.
“That woman was extremely traumatized. She hid inside the refrigerator,” said police Chief John Romero.
Romero said those arrested are thought to be members of a gang and are suspects in six other armed robberies. In one of those incidents, the robbery of a Prospect Street market, a man in the store was shot in the leg.
The three were arraigned in Lawrence District Court yesterday and each was ordered held on $500,000 bail.
The three alleged armed robbers also had another source of income. They were participants in an $800,000 grant program aimed at at-risk youth. Two months ago, the three were placed in maintenance jobs in the Department of Public Works under the “Safe and Successful Youth Initiative Grant.” The jobs entail picking up trash at the DPW yard and at various spots around Lawrence.
The grant program in Lawrence has been run since its inception last spring by Art McCabe of the city’s Community Development Department. The grant program is designed to curb crime and violence committed by 18- to 24-year-olds. Every participant in the program is referred through the trial court system or state social services agencies, according to McCabe.