Dozens of rounds fired during gang-related shooting in Kennewick

Official says increase in violence is from gang members getting out jail or prison

Tri-City HeraldJuly 15, 2014 

— A flurry of bullets ripped through a parked car outside a Kennewick apartment complex late Monday night, narrowly missing two children who avoided gunfire by lying flat on the vehicle's floor.

Shards of broken glass covered the sidewalk after the shooting, which police said is the latest instance of gang violence in the Tri-Cities.

"If they had been sitting in a seat or laying in the seat, they would have been struck by bullets," said police spokesman Ken Lattin.

The shots woke up neighbors in the complex on the 1800 block of 21st Avenue around 10:20 p.m. as several males exchanged gunfire in the street. A 36-year-old woman was treated at a hospital for a head injury after a bullet broke a window and sent glass flying.

The shooting may be a result of an internal dispute between members of the same gang, Lattin said. Police have identified suspects and a vehicle believed to be involved, though no names or a description of the vehicle were released.

When officers arrived, witnesses told them a group of people ran into two apartments in the complex, Lattin said. Police surrounded the residences and called for the people to come out.

At least three males inside one of the apartments refused to come out, and the Tri-City Regional SWAT Team was called.

Authorities eventually persuaded them to come out and determined they were shot at during the incident, Lattin said. Two of the males are documented gang members.

A few blocks away, officers found a vehicle with bullet holes and two guns inside that crashed near 15th Avenue and Vancouver Street, Lattin said. Police believe the occupants of the car were also shot at.

All people involved in the incident were uncooperative when questioned by officers. No arrests were reported.

Neighbors were still in shock Tuesday as they expressed concerns about their safety in the Kennewick neighborhood. A lengthy standoff last Friday that involved the SWAT Team took place across the street from where the latest shooting happened.

Willy Beene, 50, has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years and has never seen the type of violent crime that has taken place within the past week, he said. He was home with his wife, three grandchildren and stepdaughter when he heard gunshots and vehicles speeding down his street.

"It upsets me. It makes me feel not safe," Beene said on his front doorstep. "You can't just go outside and do what you want to do. It makes you feel uneasy."

Law enforcement officials in both counties have dealt with multiple gang-related incidents in the past few months.

A feud between gangs in Pasco is responsible for at least half of the six gang shootings in the city this year, said crime analyst Dave Reardon. A majority of the gang incidents have taken place in central Pasco.

Kennewick police did not have statistics Tuesday for the number of gang incidents in the city, though they investigated a drive-by shooting in May where a suspect opened fire on an apartment building in the middle of the day. Police believe that shooting was gang-related.

The gang violence in Kennewick has increased, especially within the past month, Lattin said. He attributed the violence to gang members getting out of jail and prison.

Law enforcement agencies in Benton County are pooling all of their resources, including specialized units, to try to slow down gang violence, Lattin said.

"We are constantly on the offensive putting people in jail," he said. "This is it. We have stretched every resource we can. We are dedicating every resource we can to go after these people on a daily basis."

Jesse Campos, the leader of the local gang outreach program FIRME, agrees with Lattin that the recent gang violence could be attributed to local gang members getting out of prison, he said. Campos, a former gang member, works with current and former gang members in prisons around the state.

The Pasco pastor told the Herald that he expects even more gang members to be released from prison in the next year, he said.

"It's either going to calm things down or ramp-up more things, he said. "It's something to watch out for."

Campos called on leaders in the community to come together to provide kids with alternatives to gangs.

"This shows that there is a need for some resources for gang members, especially during the summer when school is out," he said. "It's not a product of immigration or ethnicity, it's a product of society, and we need to band together as a community."

Campos' organization is expected to release a comprehensive assessment of gangs in the Tri-Cities next month, he said.

The organization was one of three in the state recently awarded a grant to help with the project.

Go to firmeoutreach.org to learn more about the program and resources to get out of gangs.

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