KSL Investigates: Growing number of children in gangs

Feb 16, 2018, 2:28 PM | Updated: 8:54 pm
Detectives with the Salt Lake County Metro Gang Unit arrest a suspect on February 14, 2018....
Detectives with the Salt Lake County Metro Gang Unit arrest a suspect on February 14, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Two separate shootings in Salt Lake County on Feb. 12, left two people dead. In both cases, children were caught up in the violence.

The KSL Investigators spent a night with the Metro Gang Unit to get a better sense of a growing problem; gangs are recruiting more kids.

Friends in shock

Alan Hernandez Lopez, 16, was gunned down in South Salt Lake on his way home from school Monday afternoon.

Wednesday evening, four mourners expressed pain and disbelief while gathering to remember their friend.

Through tears, one mourner, Elizabeth, said, “He’s just a kid, he doesn’t deserve to die like that, he was supposed to grow up and be someone.”

Metro Gang Unit detective Jerry Valdez looked on.

“Sorry for your loss,” he said to the group of four girls.

Valdez said he feels their pain.

“We don’t want another 17-year-old dying,” he said.

Gang unit ride

Recently, the KSL Investigators uncovered a troubling fact. Police have identified 50 gangs in Salt Lake County and estimate there are about 1,300 juvenile gang members. Valdez said the gang problem has risen to levels not seen since the 1990s, with a disturbing twist.

“You have juveniles out here and that’s the difference now. In the ’90s, it was adults,” he said.

The KSL Investigators rode along with Valdez one night. During his shift, a tip came in about a wanted gang member. Detectives set up a perimeter and waited for the suspect to make a move. Within a half hour, the suspect got into his car and left a house in Rose Park. Valdez tailed the suspect’s hatchback to a nearby gas station. They waited for an opportunity. As the suspect came out of the gas station and walked to his car, police moved in. Valdez flipped on his car’s police lights, blocked the suspect’s car at the pump and jumped out of the door.

“Stop! Get on the ground,” Valdez shouted.

The suspect started to run from officers, but another detective was already at him and the suspect laid down. Detectives arrested the suspect, Charles Davison. Valdez searched his car and found what police believed to be crack pipes in the car, disguised with miniature roses.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Valdez said.

Valdez said Davison had been on the run since 2013. Valdez said Davison was a negative role model who needed to be captured.

“These youngsters see that stuff and they say, ‘Hey, if he can get away with it, why can’t we?’” Valdez said.

That’s why the fight against gangs is not just on the streets. It’s also in the schools. Police and teachers are trying to stop the gangs’ recruitment efforts.

School prevention efforts

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said, “These kids are so young, we have to do something now.”

She agreed the gang problem has resurged to its 1990s levels. She said prevention will play a huge role in stopping the carnage.

“We do have ‘Choose Gang Free’. It’s a program where we go into the schools and we teach gang free prevention,” Rivera said.

In the Granite School District, fifth-graders signed a pledge Thursday as they graduated from the district’s program.

The group of students put their hands over their hearts or saluted as they recited, “I will ask for help if I or someone I know is feeling pressure to participate in gang activity.”

Maria Garcia has spent four years working in the district as a gang prevention specialist. She said the students learn many skills during the 10-week program.

“These students feel comfortable that they do know who to go to, how to create a plan in case they end up in a peer pressure situation,” Garcia said.

But there are challenges here, too. The district needs more money. The program is in 13 elementary schools, but spokesperson Ben Horsley said it’s not enough.

“We do serve some high crime areas where there’s a significant amount of gang activity, and it’s unfortunate we’re not a recipient of anti-gang funding,” Horsley said.

Horsley said the district did not win grant funding from the state for the anti-gang program this year. The funding gap means not all children learn the skills necessary to choose a gang-free life, whether in the Granite School District or across the county.

Valdez said kids exposed to gangs feel immense pressure.

“The unfortunate thing is they’re going back home to other gang members, their mom or dad are gang members, so this is a lifestyle that they’ve lived, so they’re going to keep living this cycle until we try to put a stop to it,” she said.

The gang unit will keep working, both on the streets and in schools. There is more pain and loss to try to prevent.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: How cybercriminals use social engineering to get us to hand over our sensitive info

You can have the strongest, most secure password in the history of cybersecurity, but the bad guys know there is one weakness they can use to hack into your system - you!
4 days ago
Delric Ellington and Kael Ellington talk about a stray bullet that entered their Salt Lake City hom...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera, KSL TV

Amid increase in youth shooting deaths, Utah pediatricians push for tougher gun laws

The number of Utah children and teens killed by gunfire reached a record high in 2020, in part because of a spike in homicides. Two Utah pediatricians are calling on the state to pass what they see as solutions to the troubling trend.
7 days ago
Albee Bostrom and Sissy McDade turned their love of thrift store shopping into a business: Thrift H...
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Second-hand shopping, selling surge as Utahns try to beat rising prices

Data shared with the KSL investigators shows Utahns are trying to bring in more money and reduce spending as they try to bust inflation.
7 days ago
Bry Hansen visits his son's grave in South Jordan. (Tanner Siegworth/KSL TV)...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera, KSL TV

The number of Utah kids and teens dying by gunfire hit a record high in 2020

The state hit a devastating milestone in 2020, recording the highest-ever number of shooting deaths among Utahns 18 and younger.
7 days ago
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: What can you do if you pay someone to do work but they disappear with your money?

Imagine paying a deposit only to have them take your money and ghost you.
9 days ago
Photo illustration (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Your credit card can up your interest rate without telling you

If your credit card company raises your interest rate even just a little bit, it could have a significant impact on how long it takes you to get out of debt. A relatively new law means your credit card company can do just that and they do not even have to give you the heads up.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
KSL Investigates: Growing number of children in gangs