RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. - When Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters visited shooting victims in the hospital this weekend, he says he didn't realize that Rijkard Jean-Baptiste, 20, was also a suspect.
"I was as shocked as you were. When I first heard about it, it was early this morning. I woke up with this," Masters said during an interview conducted by WPTV in Charlotte, NC, where he was attending the Democratic National Convention as a delegate.
Masters says he met Jean-Baptiste several times as his granddaughter's acquaintance, but says it was only in passing.
Masters says it's not the first time he's known victims or suspects of violence.
"When you have a family member who knows, or a suspect who knows your family member, that's tough as well. It's a small community, people know people," said Masters.
Jean Baptiste appeared in court to face first and second degree murder charges Thursday morning.
"When kids get a certain age, we don't know who they're seeing, we don't know who their friends are. They don't tell you, especially when you're grandfather is a bishop," said Masters.
Antonio Hinds, 17, and Andy Joseph, 16, were killed in the shooting, which police explain as the culmination of a simmering feud.
"We had two young people who had a beef and they decided to settle it with firearms," said Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams.
Jean Baptiste's family spoke to WPTV after his appearance.
They insist he started shooting in self-defense after being shot in the leg.
"He said only shot one person and the one person who shot him in the leg was coming to blow his head off and that's when he pulled the gun to shoot at the person," said a relative who did not want to be identified.
Masters pledges to start a task force to battle violence in his city, and says the personal connection makes him more determined.
"It's still about victims here. We just have to find a way to stop guns from getting into the hands of kids, period," said Masters.
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