‘Do not turn a blind eye:’ Expert says rising numbers of teens joining gangs

DES MOINES, Wash. – A 13-year-old boy killed a 14-year-old boy in an argument over the color of a pair of shoes.

The shooting happened Thursday in Everett and police say the crime was gang related.

A local gang expert shared his insight with Q13 News about the warning signs parents should know.

Local and federal law enforcement revealed gang related violence is on the rise in Snohomish County, while experts say gang leaders are sometimes recruiting kids beginning in elementary school.

“Parents, we want our kids to like us,” said educational consultant Gabriel Morales. “But sometimes we don’t even know we’re being enablers when we allow them to do this stuff.”

Morales spent his career alongside gang members as a corrections officer for more than three decades. He says some kids could easily fall into the wrong group and start finding trouble fast.

“Do not think it can’t happen to you, do not turn a blind eye,” he said.

In a report prepared for to local lawmakers this past summer, police say in South Snohomish County alone there were at least 56 gang related shootings since early 2015. Fourteen people were injured, and Wednesday’s shooting in Everett raises the total deaths to 3. Many of the victims share a striking commonality.

“We’re looking at suspects and victims who are in their teens,” said Shari Ireton from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s an allure,” says Morales. “There’s a lot of things that makes them feel like they have power over their lives. A lot of times the kids are feeling powerless, so we have to empower kids more.”

Morales says some of the signs can be right in front of your face; like finding drawings or pictures glorifying gang members and gang signs -- or finding spray paint cans, or drug paraphernalia.

That’s why he says parents have to be more engaged but also use tough love with kids.

“Go into their room,” he said. “You have to go through their notebooks, find out who they’re hanging out with. Set curfews, set limits.”

Morales says many times kids join gangs because they aren’t getting structure and affection at home, so those needs get filled by gangs but it rarely ends in anything positive for a teenager.

“What they usually find is misery, agony, and life in prison or death,” Morales warned.