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Murder victim targeted with new $25k reward led to citywide changes in gun violence prevention

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Operation Legend, a federal initiative to deal with violent crime announced Friday, provides new reward money for tips in a 2015 homicide case.

De’Shaun Swanson, 10, was killed in a drive-by shooting almost five years ago.

While Swanson’s killer has not been brought to justice, his murder did change how neighborhoods handled gun violence. The method worked so well in the Butler Tarkington neighborhood where it happened that it was copied all over the city.

De’Shaun and his family were outside a home at 39th Street and Graceland Avenue on a warm September night attending a prayer vigil for a best friend’s grandmother when someone drove by and opened fire. Three others were injured, but it was De’Shaun’s death that led the community to say enough is enough.

“In 2015, my neighborhood was under attack. My neighbors were under attack. It affects you deeply,” said Ted Feeney, who was the president of the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association back then. “Everyone was scared; you didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

Feeney said De’Shaun’s murder was the third that summer and fall. Three more were still to come.

“It spiraled out of control very, very quickly.”

But when the Indy Ten Point Coalition showed up on Graceland Avenue the night of De’Shaun’s murder and following nights, there was a new approach. For the first time, instead of bringing in people to walk the streets, it was neighbors like Feeney walking their own streets.

“The De’Shaun Swanson death was such an outcry; it mobilized residents all over Butler Tarkington,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, president of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition.

While Feeney said it took months to see the difference, it was there.

Harrison said the new approach was effective because activists weren’t just in the neighborhood for their paid 10-15 hours a week — they were there 24/7. They also better knew the key players.

“It got people to break the code of silence,” Harrison said. “When you get that kind of buy-in, then people get involved on all kinds of levels.”

Now, in 2020, the men agree differences are evident. There is a more vibrant, safer neighborhood. There’s just one or two “For Sale” signs, not a dozen.

Feeney said he sees parallels with the current record rate for homicides and is upset the mayor’s office hasn’t done more like what worked in his neighborhood.

“This is the biggest crisis besides coronavirus on the health side, and it’s not being dealt with,” Feeney said.

Still, De’Shaun’s killer has not been forced to answer for what they did on a warm September night.

“Some coward out there knows something,” Feeney said.

“We have an idea who did it, but we’ve not gotten the person who’s willing to come forward and testify in court,” adds Harrison.

But both men hope the renewed interest and new reward is enough to change that.

“It stays with you, you don’t forget about it,” Feeney said.

De’Shaun Swanson would have turned 15 years old this August.