PLEASANTVILLE — Taron Williams was a high school graduate who dreamed of a military career. Todd Mitchell was an eighth-grader nearing his 14th birthday.
They were far from the typical victims of street violence, friends said Thursday.
But both died Wednesday in a shooting on Woodland Avenue, where Williams had lived with his older brother.
“He was just in eighth grade,” former schoolmate Emily Ramos said of Mitchell, whom she knew by his nickname, “Doodie.” “Who is he going to have problems with?”
The deaths bring to 28 the number of people killed in Atlantic County this year, three shy of the 31 in 2006, the most since at least 1985.
In just two days, Pleasantville met and passed its record of seven, set in 2001, according to Uniform Crime Report information. The city had three homicides within 48 hours.
Police received a 911 call just after 11 p.m. Wednesday from one of the victims — believed to be Mitchell — saying he had been shot.
Ramos’ father, Harry Ramos, 58, heard the shots next door, and peeked out his second-floor window.
“You don’t go outside when you hear that,” he said Thursday.
Mitchell was found with multiple gunshot wounds in front of a Woodland Avenue home. A short time later, Williams, 19, was found in an alley behind the duplex, with a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Both teens were taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus in Atlantic City, where they were pronounced dead.
“I was very angry and frustrated and devastated,” Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle said. “Something like this happens, and it just dominates and overshadows all the things we’ve done.”
Pleasantville has worked to curb the violence, including having police interact with the residents and business owners. He named the partnerships between the city and other agencies, such as the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department, which is overseen by a former Pleasantville police captain, Sheriff Frank Balles.
“We engaged the public,” Tweedle said. “We’ve actually had people that have been calling us and giving us tips.”
For a while, it seemed to work.
After three people were killed in the city in January — including a double homicide of two Atlantic City brothers linked to violence in that city — things quieted down, until Sept. 24.
Since then, five people have been killed.
“It’s not normal,” Emily Ramos, 15, said.
She is a student at Pleasantville High School but knew Mitchell, who attended the Middle School.
“People talk about northside and southside,” she said. “We are all people. What does it matter?”
“People are getting real reckless out here,” said Candis King, 19, who knew Williams from Junior ROTC.
She and “Jux,” as Williams was known, graduated together in June.
Now a criminal justice student at Atlantic Cape Community College, King said the killings only reinforce her desire to succeed in the field. After taking a forensic sciences class in high school, and learning how to determine movement of a body from blood spatter, King said she was inspired to pursue a career in the line of work.
“I just hope they can figure out who did it,” Ramos said, looking over at the steps of Williams’ home.
People stopped by the house throughout the day, bringing red, white and blue balloons, candles and teddy bears.
Williams’ mother, Sharron Faulkner-Williams, said her son was the youngest of three boys but acted as a role model to them.
She said Williams lived in the home with his father and brother. She did not know Todd Mitchell.
Williams — whose hobbies included paintball and video games — had a fighting spirit and was looking to do positive things with his life, his mother said. She said she had no idea why this would happen.
“The kids today have guns and they are so lost,” she said. “Whoever did this will reap their reward. The Bible says you will reap what you sow. You will not leave this world until you reap it.”
Faulkner-Williams asked that anyone who had any information go to the police.
Ramos agreed with King that the area violence inspires a desire to learn about how to solve the cases. It also causes many to carry guns.
A gun was recovered at the scene, but officials would not comment on whose it may have been or whether it was used in the shootings.
“There are people with guns that you would not believe,” said Tweedle, who belongs to the organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Ramos and King said they believe both victims had guns, since many people carry them for protection. A few pictures on Facebook show Williams with a rifle.
“He was going to be a Marine,” said his cousin, Sam Davis Jr. “He signed all his papers.”
Davis, 18, said he saw his cousin Wednesday, and there didn’t appear to be any problems.
“He was a good guy, always happy,” Davis said.
“You never expect a kid in ROTC to get shot like that,” King said. “He will be missed but never forgotten.”
Williams recently tried to get work with FEMA, but was not employed when he was killed, according to his cousin.
“It’s really a tragedy,” schools Superintendent Garnell Bailey said, adding that grief counseling is available for students and staff.
Bailey remembered Williams, whom she saw graduate in June.
“They are right there at the doors ready to step into a bigger world,” she said, passing on condolences to the families of both victims.
The two were well-known in the community and had stellar reputations, friends said.
Williams’ Facebook page — on which he went by “Jux Steglabini” — was filled with friends mourning him just hours after he was killed. Many expressed disbelief that he was dead. Elsewhere online, people struggled to understand how someone as young as Mitchell could be gunned down.
“Who would do that to a (13-year-old)?” Ramos asked. “It’s not like he was gang-banging or talking about shooting people.”
Even at the scene, cars slowed as they passed the house, which was sectioned off by yellow police tape.
“You’ll see people coming to check if it’s true,” King said, adding that she was shocked when she heard the news at 7 a.m.
Tweedle said he doesn’t want residents to be discouraged by the recent spate of violence.
“They have to understand, I’m not backing down at all,” he said. “There are too many good people in Pleasantville. Too many good things in Pleasantville.”
Tweedle visited the scene shortly after the shooting, saying he wanted to have a firsthand account to tell people what was going on. He and acting police Chief Jose Ruiz were back Thursday morning as police investigated the scene, which faces the North Main Elementary School.
“We don’t want the kids to be discouraged,” Tweedle said. “We need to take ownership. This is still our town.”
Staff Writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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