Police: 20,000 known gang members in Las Vegas Valley

LAS VEGAS -- A recent string of gang-related violence is raising concerns with law enforcement and the community, especially because the suspects and the victims were so young.

Last Tuesday, a gunman opened fire at Fashion Show mall leaving a 19-year-old in critical condition. This past Saturday, a 16-year-old was shot and killed just blocks from his home on North Las Vegas Boulevard and Pecos Road.

While law enforcement is investigating both shootings, there are others in the community working to end the cycle of violence.

According to Metro Police, there are now about 20,000 known gang members and 600 or more gangs around the Las Vegas valley. Members are getting lured into violent situations at younger ages.

 La La Gee was just 6 years old when she saw her own father stab and kill her mother.

"The anger don't ever go away," she said.

Without the support of family, she turned to local gangs. For years, she was fighting and stealing until she found support with a local group headed by Melvin Ennis.

"They care. I never had anybody care about me," said a tearful Gee.

"You can see them making that decision as early as 8, 9 or 10 years old," Ennis said.

He founded the Clark County Gang Intervention Team in 1992. The group provides a year-long program called "Back on Track" at three local community centers. It gets young people into everything from arts and music, to sports, as alternatives to a life of crime. Ennis says his work is more critical than ever with the latest statistics from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department showing the number of gangs in the valley have shot up 10 percent every year for the past three years.

"If we can reach the family to save a home, you can save a neighborhood, and then you can save a community," Ennis said.

"If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be La La today," Gee said.

At 18 years old, Gee just graduated from Desert Rose High School and Ennis was there to cheer her on.

"I had bumps all over my arm. I couldn't stop smiling," he said.

Gee says she has come to view Ennis as a father figure.

"One day you are going to find that person that cares about you, so just hold on," she advises other kids.

The "Back on Track" gang prevention program has an 80 percent success rate. Eight out of 10 kids, who took part, stayed out of jail, graduated high school, and found a job, Ennis said.

 


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