Every parent’s nightmare is for their child to be taken from them without warning. On April 22, 2009, at 9 p.m., in a usually quiet neighborhood in King City, Alex Cortes, 13, and Abel Silva, 18, were playing video games with three friends in a garage near their home. The overhead garage door was open. Two cars were parked in the driveway. Engrossed in the game, the boys did not notice the suspects walking toward them between the two cars. Without warning, shots rang out. Alex and Abel were killed, two of their friends were partially paralyzed and the third received a non-life threatening gunshot wound. In an instant, two boys were gone, and the devastation to their families will haunt them forever. The case remains open.
On Dec. 2, 2008, little 11-year-old Ester Rubio was with her family at a soccer match at King City High School. At the end of the game, everyone began cheering for the winners. Standing behind the bleachers, where Ester and her family were seated, was a gang member who began firing toward them where some young men believed to be rival gang members were. Instead of hitting the gang members, little Ester was shot, as was her brother Gabriel. Ester died from her injuries. After an extensive investigation, an adult and two juveniles were arrested and prosecuted for Ester’s murder. Once again, a family was forever shaken by senseless, cowardly gang violence.
These are just two examples of families in King City, who on the day of their loved ones’ death, become members of a group they never wanted to be members of — families of homicide victims. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering they have gone through. Regardless of who may be killed — innocent members of the community or young men who became involved in gangs — no family deserves this, and no one has the right to take their lives.
I’ve always had the philosophy in investigating homicides, “They all matter or none of them matter.” Gang members bring a lot of violence into their lives, and their families’ lives. But, every gang member has someone who loves them. They have value in someone’s heart. There is always a father, mother, brother, sister or other relative who cared about them, and shared laughter, good times, holidays, birthdays, weddings, graduations and other joyous occasions with them. I’m sure those families worry each day about the dark path their family members have chosen, and agonize over them gang violence strikes them down.
Were it not for the growth of gangs in King City, this community would be a peaceful farming community with a history of so much good, but has become mired in gang violence. It affects public safety and the economic viability of our community.
Gangs exist for three primary reasons — power, respect and money. With power comes respect and control of a geographical area or market. The financial windfall and lifeblood of gangs comes from controlling drugs, prostitution, extortion, robbery, auto theft, identify theft, and on and on the list goes. It’s not about the colors of red or blue, it’s about the color of money — green.
While assigned to the Prison Prosecution Unit of the District Attorney’s Office, my office was at Salinas Valley State Prison. For four years I investigated gang-related incidents within both Salinas Valley State Prison and the Correctional Training facility (CTF). I traveled to prisons throughout California interviewing gang members. I was amazed how many veteran gang members over time, told me of feeling betrayed by the very gangs and “homies” they swore allegiance to, and gave everything to. It was sad to see, hear and feel the pain of these men who realized they had wasted their lives in the gang lifestyle. Many of them were fathers and mothers, who said they now pray behind prison walls that their children do not follow in their footsteps.
This is not just a law enforcement problem folks — the problem is shared by every member of the community. Law enforcement cannot solve or reduce the level of gang activity alone. It takes community organizations, churches, clergy, schools and law enforcement banding together to address gang violence. There are many communities across America where this has been done. I recently met with members of the San Diego Police Department Homicide and Gang Units. They have a comprehensive network of partners who work with them following every gang-related homicide or major incident. We already have some amazing community partners in King City, and will be working to expand our efforts going forward.
You should all be able to enjoy your community, take your kids to the park, allow your kids to play in the front yard or go to the movies, without worrying about their safety from gangs. It’s up to those of us in law enforcement to do all we can every day to make our communities safer — but that responsibility rests with each of you also.