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Officers searching for teen burglary suspect

OLD HICKORY — The Mt. Juliet Police Department is searching for a teenage suspect in correlation with a pair of convenience store burglaries that occurred on Lebanon Road on Tuesday.

According to an update posted by the Mt. Juliet Police Department, detectives are following strong leads on the missing suspect’s identity. As of Wednesday at press time, he had yet to be located.

The suspect is a 14-17-year-old Caucasian male who was seen on security footage wearing a light gray hooded sweatshirt with a large upside-down smiley face with text that reads “Always Smiling” on the back.

Authorities last saw the suspect fleeing on foot towards Pin Oak Drive and Garland Drive.

Officers were alerted to a robbery in progress at 4EverECig, located at 14827 Lebanon Road, when a burglary alarm went off at around 3:30 a.m. Two suspects were apprehended after an officer spotted them burglarizing Marathon Gas, which is located at 15333 Lebanon Road.

After attempting to flee on foot and being arrested, the two juvenile suspects from Nashville were both charged with commercial burglary, vandalism, and evading arrest. The 16-year-old suspect was also charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.

The 15-year-old and 16-year-old remain in secure custody, where Mt. Juliet Police Department Public Information Officer Tyler Chandler said that they are being questioned by detectives regarding the whereabouts of the third suspect.

Further investigation led police to recover a vehicle parked by the suspects nearby. Inside they found a BB-type handgun, rifle and a small amount of marijuana.

Detectives have reason to believe that the three suspects have targeted convenience stores in the Metro-Nashville area in search of vape pens and e-cigarettes.

The suspects’ connection to the other burglaries is currently under investigation.

Safe at home at Wilson County

Instances of human trafficking have increased dramatically across the country.

Wilson County is no exception.

Residents who may have been victimized by the rise can utilize the state’s Safe at Home program to regain peace of mind by applying for a substitute address.

“We have dealt with some human trafficking cases in Wilson County, and what’s important to know is what it is, what method they use to lure people in, and the recognizable signs of someone involved in human trafficking,” Wilson County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) Public Information Officer Scott Moore said. “The best thing that we can do as a community is to educate ourselves and make sure that we stay vigilant, because it could happen to anyone.”

Common themes that WCSO has dealt with in its human trafficking cases include violence, manipulation, false promises to well-paying jobs, romantic relationships and the use of social media.

“A lot of these traffickers have utilized social media to scout out different victims they’re interested in,” Moore said. “One of the kinds of people they’re interested in are those who are psychologically or emotionally vulnerable.”

As it’s common for individuals to talk about what’s going on in their lives on social media, traffickers can use that information to manipulate their victims.

“They can really see what your likes are and what your dislikes are, and when they do come into contact with you, they’ll groom you,” Moore said. “So, how you groom people is after you’ve researched their likes and dislikes, you get into a situation where, other than using the lure method of violence, they’ll groom you over a period of time. They’ll give you the things that you want, say the things you want to hear.”

Common signs that someone is a victim of human trafficking that the WCSO has found include hesitation to report the incident, being in a suspicious circumstance like being alone at a hotel or not being in control of their money.

“They may feel like no one believes them,” Moore said. “They may feel that they’re the ones that made bad choices, and they’re afraid of getting help because of what may be said about them.”

Personal information like home addresses are easy to find when they’re public record, which can make it easy for abusers to track and find their victims. The Safe at Home address confidentiality program gives substitute addresses to victims of human trafficking, stalking, domestic abuse or any sexual offense.

“As law enforcement, when we’re dealing with situations like this, we want to make sure that we don’t compromise the victim and it (the victim’s address) is not available for public review,” Moore said.

Safe at Home Program Coordinator Stacy Scruggs pointed to the benefit of giving victims a substitute address.

“If you think about yourself as a resident of the state of Tennessee as you go about your daily life, all of the people that you give your home address to that we really don’t think about on a daily basis,” Scruggs said. “For victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and stalking, every time that they give their home address out to someone, they are concerned about that information potentially becoming a matter of public record.”

For victims, information like their home address being public record opens up the possibility of an offender finding out where they are.

“The first thing that we’re going to do is issue that participant a substitute address that they can use for all legal purposes so that as they are coming into contact with state and local government agencies, they are not actually giving their home address to anyone,” Scruggs said. “They are only giving out the substitute address that we have provided for them. As they start using that substitute address, the Safe at Home program will start collecting all first-class and certified mail on their behalf. We then forward that mail to the participants at their confidential location.”

Applicants must be victims intending to move to a new address in the next 90 days as the program cannot remove an existing address from public record.

HomeSafe is a program that runs a 24-hour helpline and provides emergency transportation and shelter to victims. The program is also Safe at Home’s local partner in Wilson County.

“Often, when an individual is experiencing violence, tracking is a huge consideration,” HomeSafe Executive Director Jacob Goings said. “The Safe at Home program is something that we use often with many of our clients that are being placed in shelter in order to maintain confidentiality regarding their location.”

Hypervigilance is common among the victims that HomeSafe helps.

“The tiniest little things that make you feel safe and secure can make a huge difference,” Goings said.

Mt. Juliet decision aimed at increasing tourism

The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners chose to update its commercial retail center (CRC) standards during Monday evening’s meeting.

The board voted unanimously to allow recreational seasonal rental units to be built on CRC zoning.

Last month, the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission forwarded a positive recommendation for the ordinance to the board of commissioners.

District 1 commissioner Ray Justice approached city staff with interest in building a recreational district near Old Hickory Lake. Justice, whose district is near Old Hickory Lake, said that he would like to take advantage of tourist opportunities around the lake.

“The scope of the allowable zoning will take in the entire shoreline going all the way around to Cedar Creek Marina before jumping all the way across to Gay Winds Drive, and anything on the lake are within one mile of the lake in this direction,” said Justice.

City officials said that zoning recreational seasonal rental units to commercial retail center planned unit developments (CRC-PUD) would allow Mt. Juliet to close any loopholes on CRC-PUD regulations while also allowing the flexibility under a PUD classification to broaden an underserved utilization of tourism-driven development.

“Zoning a new recreational district this way would allow for basically lake life,” said Justice.

City officials said that a new recreation center would incorporate transient habitation for seasonal type rentals and will be limited in scope and nature.

District 4 commissioner Jennifer Milele suggested to update Mt. Juliet’s district seasonal rental unit regulations by having commercial activities located within one mile from Old Hickory Lake or Percy Priest Lake. The city commission voted unanimously to make the change.

Justice pointed out that it was a grammatical error to have commercial activities to be located within a mile of either of the two lakes.

Mt. Juliet has not planned on building a new recreational district.

Mayor James Maness questioned the actual boundaries between a future recreational district and Old Hickory Lake and how that the city would enforce this property, especially if it gets damaged by a flood or any other natural disaster.

Maness was also uncertain about whether a new recreational district would bring significant revenue to Mt. Juliet.

“I don’t have a problem with the property per se, but I just want to know the economics around what we are going down this path on it,” said Maness.

Maness also said that when it comes to opportunities for development, sometimes people get creative on what they want to do.

The city commission also approved a resolution related to Mt. Juliet’s commitment to transportation improvements.

City officials said that the city commission is committed to provide $25 million toward the Central Pike (SR-265) interchange/roadway widening and to expedite the development of this project.

The city commission also gave the Mt. Juliet High School dance team a proclamation recognizing the squad winning the regional championship in the hip-hop division at the Dance Team Union regional competition last November.

The dance team will compete at the National Dance Team Championships in Orlando, Florida, in February.

A place to play

Currently, there are no city-sponsored football fields in Lebanon.

For 12 years, the Lebanon Youth Football and Cheerleading has had to find its own places to practice and play games. Currently, the organization’s spring flag football program will hold practice in the back field of Fairview Church. Winfree Bryant Middle School is also allowing the program to utilize its field on Saturdays.

“The sportsplex (which is being built near Highway 231, consisting of five multi-purpose soccer fields) was a big deal, and when we heard it was coming in, we were like, ‘Oh that’s awesome ...we may get some football fields,’ ” Lebanon Youth Football and Cheerleading President David Paris said. “There are no football fields currently being built at the sportsplex.”

Paris spoke at the Lebanon City Council meeting on Jan. 2 to ask to sit down and talk with city officials about the program becoming city-sponsored. On Wednesday, he sat down with Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell and Parks and Lebanon Recreation Department Director William Porter.

“They told me that those fields (at the new sportsplex) can be multi-purpose, and as long as there’s no scheduling conflict with soccer, they would let us play there,” Paris said. “They’re not opposed to working with us on that, and in phase two, they’re looking at possibly adding some football fields.”

The city has agreed to put the program on the website and is considering the possibility of financially supporting the program since it does not have a field and since the city currently does not have one available for its use.

The program currently runs off of player registration fees and donations to put on its flag football season in the spring and its tackle football season in the fall.

“Last year, we had nine teams, averaging 17-18 kids per team,” Paris said. “The cost of everything is going up.”

Lebanon Youth Football and Cheerleading provides helmets and jerseys for its players and has to rent lights for its field. It also provides scholarships for registration fees for players whose families are on government assistance.

More than funding, Paris wants to be able to provide a field for the program’s players.

“What a field means for us is we can host tournaments,” Paris said. “We can run our own concession stand. We can support ourselves better and have a place for the kids to play and call home.”

These needs were expressed to Bell during the meeting held on Wednesday.

“They want somewhere permanent, somewhere that’s nice and they can call their spot,” Bell said. “It’s something that wasn’t really on my radar, but now that I know how many people they serve and how many kids play with the organization, it’s something that we really want to help out with.”

Paris expects to continue discussions with the city in an effort to resolve the issue.

Jarred Hall