By Anna-Marie Menhenott
FORT PIERCE -- Ever since Nedd 'Preacher' Childress helplessly watched his son take the wrong path to a life sentence in prison, he's vowed to help prevent others from doing the same thing.
In the wake of the escalating violence taking place in the city, the newly formed Fort Pierce Guardian Angels are stepping up their patrols to try and deter crime and give residents some peace of mind.
"This chapter of the Guardian Angels has been in existence for about three months," said Mr. Childress. "We are here out of necessity. There are people who are scared to walk in their own neighborhoods. I want those people to know that we're there for them. We want to try and prevent crimes from happening."
Mr. Childress and his partners in preventing crime take to the streets most weekend evenings, walk in groups, and do their part as the eyes and ears of the community.
"We work very closely with law enforcement," said Mark 'Lifeguard' Peterson, a member of the Fort Pierce Guardian Angels. "We are almost like an extension of them. We have the ability to detain a person until the police get there. We try to be a force that makes a drug dealer or gang member think twice about what they were going to do."
The group is in constant contact with both the Fort Pierce Police Department and the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Department.
"If we see a crime we call 911 first, but we have the authority to make a citizen's arrest," said Mr. Peterson. "We are trying to get rid of dope dealers. What we do works. We all undergo training. We didn't just get together and say 'let's go fight crime,' we have CPR and first aid training, we have studied Kempo karate, a style of takedown methods, and have a sincere interest in keeping the community safe."
The Guardian Angels' main focus is saving the younger generation. They plan to start a Junior Angels program that will help youth heading in the right direction help their peers that may be heading down the wrong path.
"We want those kids with their heads on straight to be a positive influence on those who may be making the wrong choices, not the other way around," said Mr. Peterson. "We think the key to getting the younger kids to head in the right direction is surrounding them with positivity. The kids that are involved in sports, school church and family can extend themselves to someone who may not have positive influences at home. Hopefully we'll reach them in time."
The Guardian Angels are seeking like-minded individuals to join them in fighting crime in the city.
"It takes a special kind of person to be able to stand against the crowd and make the right choice," said Mr. Childress. "Whether someone has a criminal past is not important. Everyone makes mistakes. We're concerned with who they are now."
The Guardian Angels are planning a back to school ice cream party for local children. The Sheriff's department will supply the ice cream and help the Angel's bring the idea to fruition.
"We want the community to know that we are here for them," said Mr. Childress. "We don't want them to be scared in their own homes. They have to stand up and take back their community. These thugs should be ashamed of themselves, but they're not, so the community has to take a stand against them. The time to do that is now."
Anyone interested in going on a walk-along with the Guardian Angels or joining them permanently can call Mr. Childress at (772) 708-3736 or Mr. Peterson at (772) 708-3736.