Terrance Roberts: The former gang leader's comeback story takes a tragic twist

"Terrance Roberts is one of Denver's great comeback stories," Westword's Joel Warner wrote back in January. "A one-time shot-caller in the Park Hill Bloods," Roberts, now 37, had turned his life around and founded the Prodigal Son Initiative, an anti-gang youth program in northeast Park Hill. When a 2008 gang-related arson attack destroyed the Holly Square Shopping Center, Roberts helped spearhead a rebirth that now includes a busy basketball court and the Boys & Girls Club.

The club opened in August inside a building at 34th Avenue and Holly Street that also houses the Prodigal Son Initiative.

One of Denver's great comeback stories -- and one its biggest enigmas.

On Friday, Roberts was arrested just yards from those basketball courts and the Boys & Girls Club and charged with shooting 22-year-old Hassan Jones during a confrontation involving several people, according to news reports. Jones is in critical condition at a local hospital.

In January, Roberts was afraid that Prodigal Son might have to close its doors because of a funding shortage. "It's looking like we might have to shut our doors," he told Warner at the time. "With all the work we've done, we are still struggling to get support. If we don't get support pretty fast, we are going to have shut down in March."

In a Facebook message posted around the same time, he declared, "It's crazy that if you are from my community in this city even when you are successful and doing the right things the support is lacking! But it always has been and we are a resilient people aren't we? We raised over 400 kids over some very hard and trying times and many of them are very successful to this day. We stepped into all out gang wars and stopped them cold. We resurrected an entire community where over 9,000 people live, 2,500 of them poor children! I am proud of my track record and that of my team!"

Now, both Roberts -- who was once named an African-American History Maker by NBC, is a past winner of the DU International Peacekeepers Award and the MLK Marade Community Recognition Award -- and the community where he operated will need even more help, and the future of the Prodigal Son Initiative is in doubt.

Westword profiled Roberts and the rebirth of Holly Square in "Up From the Ashes," published in 2010. You can also read more about him and other gang leaders trying to turn their lives around in our 2007 story, "The Transformers: They created Denver's gang life. A generation later, can they break free?"

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Prison, nonviolent criminals and saving money with a game changer."

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