WARREN - The information and individual experiences shared Friday with the men seated in the jury box of the courtroom may have varied.
But the underlying message from each speaker was the same: Lay down the guns, or better yet, don't pick them up at all.
Local, state and federal officials addressed more than a dozen men identified as some of the most violent local offenders on parole or probation and considered among the most likely to commit gang-related violence.
The session, part of the State Attorney General Mike DeWine's "Safe Neighborhoods Initiative," served as the program's official Warren kickoff. The event, which lasted nearly two hours, was held inside the courtroom of Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan.
The offenders were required to attend the session as part of their parole or probation.
"We have one goal, and that is to eliminate gun violence in the city of Warren," said Warren police Chief Eric Merkel, the first speaker to address the participants.
Merkel explained that Warren saw five homicides in 2012 all of which were firearms related. So far in 2013, there have been 10 homicides in the city. Of those, about half are gun-related.
"I'm tired of it, and the community is tired of it," he said.
Along with asking participants to stop the violence, officials also asked the men present to take word back to their associates and the individuals they are affiliated with that violence in Warren would no longer be tolerated. If the offenders comply with the request, they will be met with the assistance needed to help them change their lives. If not, they will have to face the consequences including stiffer penalties. Some of those consequences were laid out including the time typically added to prison sentences when individuals convicted of a felony are later caught with a gun, ammunition or even pieces of a firearm in their possession. Along with Merkel, speakers included Richard C. Rollison III, whose son was fatally shot Oct. 26; Dr. James Graham of St. Elizabeth Health Center, who spoke about the medical effects of gunshot wounds; Pamela McCoy, whose 11-year-old son, Lloyd, died in April 2009 after being caught in a hail of gunfire meant for someone else; and Roscoe Thomas, who revealed his history with police and told the men, "God changed me. If I can change anyone can."
Vince Peterson, a pastor and Trumbull County probation officer, asked the men "Can you hear me?" He explained that every local law enforcement officer, state and federal official present as well as the concerned residents in the courtroom was asking each offender the same question. Further, Peterson said God is asking them if they can hear Him.
In exchange for their compliance, program participants are given access to job training, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and other services.
Similar initiatives already are happening in Akron and Steubenville. In Cincinnati, a similar effort led to a 41 percent decrease in gang homicides and 22 percent drop in other violent firearm incidents, according to the attorney general's office.
Representatives from the Trumbull County Sheriff's Office, the Ohio State Patrol were also present, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
"If you don't stop this type of activity, this type of behavior you'll be back here, you'll be in prison or you'll be dead," Peterson warned. "Before you pick up that gun you better think is it worth it? Going to jail, dying, leaving my family?
"God decided for some reason to give you another opportunity ... If you don't lay down your guns ... tell your boys to lay down their guns ... you will be in prison or stretched out somewhere. The true test of a man is doing what's right. Can you be man enough to do what's right? Lay your guns down. Stand up and be a man, and I guarantee God will bless you."