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Community leaders hold march and rally against gun violence in Knoxville

Seven teenagers have been shot and killed in Knoxville since January 2021.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lawrence Williams, a community leader who created the Safe Haven House, organized a march and a rally against gun violence in Knoxville, Saturday. 

The march began at Austin East High School and ended at Walter P. Taylor Homes. 

Williams said the march was designed to honor those who died in gun violence in Knoxville and to show kids there are alternatives to gun violence. 

"They need to know that they have people that love them and care about them," Williams said. "You've got to be in the community and you got to do it by love."

Wayne Saffell attended the rally and the march on Saturday. Saffell was released from prison after serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence. 

Saffell had a promising start as a JROTC student at Austin East High School and a career in the military. Once he returned to Knoxville, Saffell said he found the wrong crowd. 

"It kills you, trust me," Saffell said. "I started carrying guns and I was arrested for carrying two loaded pistols." 

Saffell had a previous felony conviction, that's why carrying those guns led to the prison sentence. 

"So many lives are just getting cut short," said Jayden Conwell, a student at Austin East High School. "All of us need to get along." 

"It's just sad seeing people my age dying all the time," said Jerimiah Conwell, an Austin East student and Jayden's brother.

In 2021, five teens, Justin Taylor, Stanley Freeman Jr, Janaria Muhammad, Jamarion Gillette and John John Mathis were shot and killed in Knoxville. 

Anthony Thompson Jr was shot and killed by Knoxville Police in Austin East High School. 

This year, two teenagers have died in gun violence, so far. Jaqwan Gillette and Ricky Waters, two 18-year-olds have died. 

Both Williams and Saffell hope the kids they mentor don't repeat their mistakes. 

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