Preston Lord case a springboard for youth violence awareness, other issues in metro Phoenix

Apr 1, 2024, 4:35 AM

Coming Tuesday: “Youth on Edge,” a four-part KTAR News special series examining mental health and behavioral issues among our teens and young adults.

PHOENIX — Youth violence was a minimally publicized phenomenon more than a year ago, but one East Valley teen’s death proved to be the impetus behind mass community awareness, anger and frustration.

On October 28, 2023, Preston Lord, a 16-year-old student at Combs High School, was attacked by a group of people outside a Halloween party in Queen Creek. Two days later, he died in the hospital, and the Valley turned its collective attention to an issue that it didn’t fully grasp the severity of until then.

The mob-style beatings were often videotaped by the attackers and posted on social media, so much of the public was perplexed when arrests weren’t made immediately. There was skepticism that police were protecting the children of affluent parents and shielding them from justice.

While the first known connected violence case happened in November 2022, Lord’s was Queen Creek’s first and also the most notable.

The town’s police chief, Randy Brice, told KTAR News 92.3 FM it’s no surprise the issue was so important to so many.

“Who [Lord] was and who he was as an individual,” Brice said. “He’s a young person first of all, and that’s a tragedy in of itself, but to have a life taken away so early, and when we get to know those victims and understand exactly what that means and to see the difficulty that it leaves for the families that are left behind, I think that resonated with people.”

Brice said the community’s attention — and sometimes frustration — was a blessing and a curse.

“It was definitely both very helpful … and in some cases very distracting because of some of the things that were being posted that were inaccurate,” Brice said.

Brice said due to the complexity and severity of the case, it was much more difficult than the public might realize. Adding to that, Brice also included the desire to give justice to Lord and do things right from the very beginning to build a strong enough case for charges to stick.

He said the investigation involved tons of interviews with suspects and witnesses, many of them minors, and found some witnesses were not forthcoming with information.

“We’ve described this a lot like a jigsaw puzzle in as we only got little snippets of information and the detectives really had to work hard to try and piece together the whole story,” Brice said.

Queen Creek Police announced it submitted charges against seven people connected to Lord’s death to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Dec. 28—exactly two months after the attack.

Brice called that timeframe “lightspeed” for an investigation like this one.

Brice said youth violence isn’t unique to the East Valley, and it’s becoming an issue across the country.

In KTAR’s upcoming youth violence series, there will be a large focus on the role of mental health plays in these cases.

While Brice is unsure what the root causes are, he does have a theory on the solution. Since Lord’s death hit so close to home for so many, maybe the answer to the problem lies there too.

“Parents are integral to what we’re doing,” Brice said. “We have got to have parents that understand how much they can impact what’s happening with their kids.”

He said he hopes the public will continue to push for change even after the fervor has died down.

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Preston Lord case a springboard for youth violence awareness, other issues in metro Phoenix