TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Multiple gang members took the stand Wednesday
In 2013, Briana Young was shot and killed at P.T. Cole Park in Tyler. According to police, she was at the park with her young son and her friends when she was caught in rival gang crossfire.
While officers say Young's death came as a result of two feuding gangs, there are more than a dozen active gangs in our area and they've been known to recruit members at a very young age.
Tyler teens are soaking up the dwindling days of summer, but in two and a half weeks when the school bell rings, school district administrators will make it a priority to keep those students busy.
"We've all heard that old adage, 'idle time is the devil's workshop,'" says Tyler Independent School District Chief Student and Support Services Officer Ken Vaughn. "They'll find ways to fill that time. We need to help them fill that time," he says.
In court Wednesday, one gang member testified that's true.
"Why did you at -- what were you 17 or 18? -- why did you decide that [joining a gang] would be a good move for you," asked Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham.
"I was just young and just wanted something to do," explained Rahkeem Goldstein, a gang member who is also charged with murder in Young's death.
Back at TISD, Vaughn says gang activity and recruitment are always on their radar.
"If you do the research and look at the statistics, what you're going to find out is the majority of the age span is between 15 and 17, but they start recruiting well down into the elementary schools," Vaughn says.
Since Young's death, Tyler Police were awarded a grant to hire a specialized gang investigator. Police say that the number of crimes gangs commit has actually decreased over the last few years; however the severity of those crimes they do commit has not.
"That's why our homicides are up. They're not afraid now to pull the trigger," Officer Don Martin said in the days following Young's death.
In 2014, authorities are keeping tabs on more more than 100,000 active gang members statewide. In East Texas, Smith County, Gregg County and Harrison County hold the highest risk of gang activity.
"They run the gamut of African-American, Hispanic, to white. We actually have one motorcycle gang. They run across the board for all races," Martin said in August of 2013.
During another murder trial in April, a Tyler Gang Intelligence Officer testified to having local knowledge of more than a dozen gangs including:
East Side Locos
5 Deuce Hoover Crips
East Side Crips
St. Louis Crips
Arian Brotherhood of Texas
Pent Hill Blast
A breakdown of the most frequent crimes gangs commit consists of 25 percent robbery, 15 percent burglary, 15 percent assault and 13 percent homicide.
School administrators say it's parents who are on the front lines of halting gang activity in their homes.
"Parents have to watch and make sure someone is not taking their role from them, because kids are going to find someone to lean on," Vaughn adds.
Still, educators vow to try to stop gang recruitment before another life is lost because of their violence.
"We hate anyone losing a mom, a daughter, a sister, or a brother... that's the tragedy of this whole thing," he says.
Tyler ISD says when more parents volunteer and get involved at school, students are less inclined to get into trouble. They add that negative changes in behavior, attendance and grades are all indicators that something is wrong.
The group Watchdog Dads also helps keep students on the right track. Tyler ISD campuses have their own Watchdog Dad groups, but you can learn more about the national organization