Poster about Olivia Kurtz

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Kurtz wanted to leave Bicentennial Park on the night of May 22, 2021, but then the DJ began playing her favorite song. She convinced her twin sister to return so they could dance just one last time.

It was an impromptu spring night party that had not been authorized by the City of Columbus, but scores of young people were finally having a good time as the pandemic was still refusing to loosen its grip.

Yes, it was late at night and the twin sisters, as close as twins can be, needed to get home. But they were having fun in Columbus. A chance to escape the soul-crushing boredom. To let go of the monotony of school and their over-serious teachers.

So they returned to the dance area and that’s when Olivia got caught in the crossfire of what many believe was beef between rivals, most likely gang-related.  

Her twin may have witnessed Olivia take her last breath. She was pronounced dead two hours later at Grant Medical. Several others were wounded in the shootout, but they survived.

Her mom, as detailed to the Free Press by a friend of the paper, had tears streaming down her face when she retold this story.

“Her twin refuses to leave her room, even now, a year later. She sleeps with her sister’s ashes,” said Olivia’s mother, Candi Kurtz, who was admonished by some for allowing her teenage daughters out that late, which made her nightmare even worse – if that’s even possible.

Also heartbreaking is how the “shooter” – a common term yet often used by urban gangs to describe those willing to open fire on anyone who gets in their way – has not been apprehended by the Columbus Division of Police, which was criticized for not breaking up the party before the shooting after repeated calls from nearby residents.

“They keep telling us (the suspect) has probably left town,” said Olivia’s mother.  

The Free Press wonders if this is a common response given to families of homicide victims if their loved one’s case goes cold. If so, what is being done to fix this? The Free Press has asked the Division such questions but their spokespersons never respond. The FBI is also investigating and offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information.

What is known is the pain of the affected families. Not long ago a small parade of all colors worked their way down Sullivant Avenue. It was call for action, led by the family of James Johnson III, who was murdered on the Hilltop in 2020. His family handed out cards with the number of the homicide detective working his unsolved case (614-645-4748).

Now multiply that by 204 and much, much more. “204” is the number of flags planted recently outside the Columbus Public Health office on Parsons Avenue remembering the victims of homicide the community suffered in 2021, with Olivia Kurtz representing just one of those flags.

The Free Press  spoke with several Columbus-based violence intervention specialists, also called “street mentors.” Many are “restored citizens.” They’ve weathered incarceration and found purpose in seeking peace.

All repeatedly said there is one individual in the community they need to reach the most – the “shooters.”

“We are going into the trenches and engaging with shooters. We are engaging in hot spots where the violence is taking place and engaging with individuals who are shooters or possibly can be shooters and discussing non-violent alternatives,” said Thell Robinson III, president of the non-profit Halt Violence, who paid his debt to society after years of dealing drugs in Linden and on the Southside.

These shooters are at the heart of what is “like an onion,” explained a former street mentor for the Urban League who did not want to offer his name for publication. The “onion” represents a gang or a neighborhood, he says, and closer to the heart of the onion you can get, greater the opportunity to stop the heartbreak.

“It works,” insisted the source about local efforts to convince shooters to “squash the beef” with enemies. He adds it’s almost always about drugs, and that Mayor Ginther has a point when he says many victims of violence know each other.

“But they need more money. They need like $10 million,” he said. “Back in 2007 we had a low number of murders (79) because the City gave us more funding that year.” 

Sean Stevenson started End The Violence in 2009. He too is a reformed citizen, a former legend amongst gangs, something he’s disavowed. He told the Free Press intervention programs are no panacea, though.

“It seems that these programs are targeting the younger generation and not the shooters,” he said. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge is convincing the “shooters” that “street mentors” are not aligned with Columbus police.

“First of all, if you do this work, you don’t involve the police,” said Stevenson. “I can’t even tell you the number of people I’ve helped [over the past year]. I work at night. You have to be out here two, three in the morning. I don’t get a day off. I don’t take vacations.”

Just this week Halt Violence posted a job opening on their Facebook page. It some ways the posting is a fascinating look at what it’s going to take to end the heartbreak felt by the likes of Olivia Kurtz’s twin sister and mom:


Street Mentor (Equal Opportunity Employment)

Our Mission – We Squash Beef and Save Lives.

Squashing beef is done by a team that understands the situations that lead to violence in the hoods. Street Mentors enter the hoods and engage with youth and young adults at the corner stores, the communities of violence, or at Halt Violence.

Upon building relationships or having them, we squash beef by working with those individuals that are shot callers in their communities. They let us know if a situation can be disputed or not. They let us know if they were involved in a situation and why.

Individuals also let us know when they’re involved in a violent situation to kill that rumor to avoid unnecessary beef. When this is done, we are helping in the highest way by preventing individuals from being shot in their communities or the victim of shootings in their communities. This is done by letting individuals know they got an agency that got there back. Halt Violence gives its WORD that everything we do with individuals, don’t go nowhere! Once our word is established, we have a bond, and the process begins to save lives from the horrendous cycle of violence that traumatizes families and entire hoods.

Responsibilities of a Street Mentor:

Must have passion for black urban community.

Must be able to relate to the teens and young adults.

Must have driver’s license, a vehicle and proof of insurance.

Engage in the hot spots of violence in the community that you have relationships with or willing to establish when its violence outside of the area of your influence to promote peace.

Attend funerals of victims to gun violence to ensure peace.

Attend vigils of victims of gun violence to ensure peace.

Dispelling rumors so unnecessary violence won’t occur to the wrong gangs, individuals or neighborhoods.

Shift reports are due by 12 pm the following day, no exceptions.

Identifying the need to squash beef with black teens and young adults to prevent murders, shootings and fights.

Facilitating immediate mediation.

Maintaining peace through funeral services when applicable.

Must emphasize the importance of balance and personal maintenance. Individuals must learn skills to help keep a healthy lifestyle.

Teach the importance of engaging in meaningful recreational activities and hobbies, positive and effective use of free time, and facilitating stress management.

Through mentoring participants, you must teach moral decision-making skills and the importance of character. In addition, encourage social awareness through community service projects.

Individuals must instruct the importance of communicating thoroughly and effectively with others, including family members and members of the black urban community.

So much violence is done from the lack of interpersonal skills. Communication is the key to any relationship. Some violence, relationships on the job or in families, can be resolved through talking to one another regardless of the vulnerability. We must push our clients through the uncomfortableness to get to the matter through talking it out.

Be a positive role model when in the community. Please Visit website before applying

Must have valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, have a vehicle and operate an email and Word document. If this is you, send your resume to to schedule an appointment.

Please follow directions. No inboxes and messages. God bless.

Job Type: Part-time with flexible hours

Pay: $15.00 per hour