RANTOUL, Ill. (WCIA)–“This isn’t the community I grew up in. The first time I ever even heard about gun violence was in high school.”
Heather Van Meter was born and raised in Rantoul. She’s a local scout leader whose taught at the junior high for the last six years.
In just 2021, four of her students have been shot. One of those students, Clayvonte Sloan, was killed by three other teenagers in Oakwood back in January.
“I was his reading teacher. And the one book he loved is called ‘Long Way Down’ by Jason Reynolds,” Van Meter said. “It’s about a young man whose in a gun violence situation. He loved that book and it breaks my heart to know that’s how he died.”
Van Meter said she is tired of seeing her students fall victim to gun violence, and feeling that heartbreak over and over again. She called for the community to find ways to reconnect, provide safe spaces and outlets for teens afterschool and during summer. She also encouraged people to get involved with Rantoul’s new gun violence task force.
“I’m very concerned about retaliation, especially over everything that’s happened in the last few weeks,” Van Meter said. “I know these kids, I know their mindset, I know where they’re coming from. I know what those influences are. That concerns me.”
She said she’s welcoming all students dealing with trauma with open arms. “Whatever is necessary for them to feel safe, and not give in to the anger and buildup of frustration they have going on.”
If you’re interested in attending the next gun violence task force meeting, the task force’s head, Regina Crider, said it will take place at Rantoul High School on June 12th, from 10:00 to 11:30 A.M. Police Chief Tony Brown is also going to speak at the meeting.