Nine teenage boys and two men in their early 20s have been charged with murder over the gang-related stabbing of Melbourne teen Solomone Taufeulungaki in mid-June.
The Victoria police assistant commissioner, Luke Cornelius, said work still needed to be done to “cut gangs off at their knees” as he announced the upgraded charges on Thursday.
The nine boys, aged from 13 to 17, had previously been charged with offences including violent disorder and affray over the alleged gang-related attack at Brimbank shopping centre in Melbourne’s west on June 16.
Six of the teenage boys were from St Albans while the other three lived in Burnside Heights, Hoppers Crossing and Kings Park. A 23-year-old Hoppers Crossing man and 20-year-old Sunshine man, who remain in custody, also had their charges upgraded to murder.
Victoria police said the next court appearance was scheduled for mid-September.
Taufeulungaki, 15, died after being attacked with knives and baseball bats in the Deer Park shopping centre’s car park. In a bail hearing for one of the defendants in June, the court heard a brawl broke out between rival “97” and “VB” gangs.
Police have been working with Pacific islander community elders and specialised youth officers to combat street gangs.
“That community’s feeling it,” Cornelius told reporters on Thursday. “We’re reaching out … to provide ongoing support for that community and many other communities that have been traumatised by violence between and among kids.”
The assistant commissioner said young people becoming involved in weapon-related violence was far too common with police working to “cut gangs off at their knees and give kids other ways of finding their identity”.
Fellow assistant commissioner Bob Hill said Thursday’s development was a testament to a police pledge to stamp out violent youth gang crime.
“Police understand the adverse impact these gangs have in the community, whether it’s disputes between those groups or the high-harm offences they commit on members of the general public,” he said.
Hill noted Victoria police had laid murder charges against 18 alleged offenders this week alone.
“The real story is what sits behind each and every one of those deaths – families, friends and relatives on both sides of these activities are now without loved ones,” he said. “The constant in many of these deaths is the links to organised and gang-related crime and the influence and organised nature of these networks cannot be overstated.”
The victim’s mother, on the day after Solomone was killed, said of the accused “we bless them”.
“We don’t want justice, we just want peace for our son,” Salome Taufeulungaki told reporters when she visited the scene to lay flowers. When asked about the alleged attackers she said: “We don’t know them, but we love them.”